Jamaica Supreme Court sides with challenge to detentions under states of emergency


KINGSTON, June 17 (Reuters) - Jamaica's Supreme Court on Friday said authorities violated a man's human rights by detaining and holding him for months without trial under a 2018 state of emergency, a ruling that challenges the suspension of rights as part of efforts to battle crime.

The Caribbean nation's government has for years declared states of emergency in specific parishes to address gang violence in a country that suffers one of the highest homicide rates in the world.

The Supreme Court ruled that Roshaine Clarke's rights to liberty and free movement were violated by his arrest and subsequent months-long detention carried out under a state of emergency declaration in the parish of St. James.

The court awarded the equivalent of around $110,000 in damages to Clarke, now 32, who was never charged or tried despite spending 263 days in prison.

"It is a victory for the constitution and for those of us who believe that the state encroaches on the rights of the citizens," said civil rights lawyer Bert Samuels in an telephone interview.

"It also (demonstrates) that the fact that the government is looking in the wrong area to solve crime. They need to deal with the detection of crime."

The government of Prime Minister Andrew Holness did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Holness several hours before the ruling declared a state of emergency in the parish of St. Catherine, which has for years been the site of bloody gang wars.

Melissa Simms, a specialist in international criminal law, said she believed some 2,000 people had been detained under states of emergency and could seek similar compensation.

"The decision also opens a floodgate for claims to be brought against the Government by other persons who have been detained under these (states of emergency)," Simms wrote in a message to Reuters. "This would have implications for the government's budget."

(This story corrects to replace "top court" with "Supreme Court" in headline and first paragraph)

Writing by Kate Chappell and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Alex Richardson

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