PHOTO: RUDRANATH FRASER Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of National Security, Senator the Hon. Matthew Samuda, emphasises a point while piloting the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, 2020; and the Evidence (Amendment) Act, 2020, during the sitting of the Senate on Friday (December 18).

KINGTON, Jamaica–Since the start of 2020, a total of 743 individuals have been arrested for attempting to illegally traffic narcotics in Jamaica.

This was disclosed by Matthew Samuda, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of National Security, while piloting two companion Bills in the Senate on Friday (December 18), which will allow for drug samples and photographs of evidence to be received as evidence of large exhibits in court proceedings.

This will mean that when large quantities of drugs are seized and have been recorded, they can be disposed of, and there will be no future need to transport large quantities of drugs to and from courtrooms for purposes of evidence.

He pointed out that over the past 12 months “Jamaica has seen multiple seizures at our ports of entry and exits, with false compartments used as concealed methods, with people trafficking directly in small quantities.”

“Transnational organized crime networks are expanding and diversifying their activities, resulting in the convergence of risks and threats that are increasingly complex and destabilizing … It is imperative that these perpetrators are charged and the matters are taken to court,” he said.

Senator Samuda noted that the passage of the Bills will be significant in strengthening procedural matters relating to how these cases are tried and thereby aid in the fight against the narcotics trade.

“The impact of having evidence that is accepted and not running the risk of evidence-tampering and ensuring that these persons when caught, and are brought before the courts, are tried and found guilty, is particularly important to the national security effort and impacts the safety of Jamaicans,” he said.

The Bills are the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, 2020; and the Evidence (Amendment) Act, 2020.

They will allow for samples of drugs to be admitted into evidence, as well as photographs, videotapes, compact disks, laboratory analysis certificates, or other such means, which can be used to verify and document the identity and quantity of the drugs and substances seized by the police.

Specifically, the Dangerous Drugs Act is being amended to provide for the secure storage of drugs seized under the Act and allow for such drugs to be destroyed. In any case, where such drugs are required as evidence, the Bill provides for samples and images of the drugs to be taken before the drugs are destroyed, and for those samples and images to be received in evidence and have the same probative force as the drugs would have if proved in an ordinary way.

The amendment to the Evidence Act will provide that in any case where “a thing” is seized as evidence, a sample or image of the thing may be taken by or under the direction of a constable; and for the sample or image so taken, to be received in evidence to have the same probative force as the thing would have if proved in an ordinary way.

Minister Samuda said the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Ministry of National Security have indicated their support for the amendments, noting that from an operational perspective “the proposed amendments will provide welcomed reform to the process of securing and submitting evidence in drug cases.”

“The amendments will ensure that evidence is meticulously procured and curated for admission and acceptance in the courts. Samples, images, certificates and records tendered in evidence, have the same probative force as the drugs would have if proved in an ordinary way,” he said.

Mr. Samuda pointed out that this will eliminate the need to transport large qualities of drugs to and from the court, as well as eliminate “the unfortunate occurrence” where drugs that have been seized, find their way back into the illegal trade.

“So, it will reduce the possibility of corruption, eliminate or minimize evidence tampering and reduce the need for large storage and prevent storeroom congestion,” he said, stressing that the practice of storing large quantities of drugs for inordinately long periods “will simply no longer exist.”

Additionally, the amendments will expand the 1996 Practice Directions issued by the then Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in relation to the handling of large drug evidence, by codifying them into law.

“They will allow for the court to order the destruction of seized drugs generally, provided that appropriate samples of the drugs have been taken safely and are adequately secured,” he noted.

The Bills were passed in the House of Representatives on December 8.