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12 months not enough

Jamaica Observer 2020-06-30 10:56:20

JAMAICANS for Justice (JFJ) wants the joint select committee of Parliament tasked with reviewing the proposed sexual harassment legislation to reform the provision imposing a 12-month limit on complaints brought by victims before the tribunal.

Section 25 of the proposed Sexual Harassment Bill sets out that a complaint alleging unlawful conduct must be made within a period of 12 months from the date of the act for it to be considered legitimate by the respective tribunal.

“This, therefore, suggests that complaints cannot be made after 12 months, even where credible evidence exists,” said a JFJ release yesterday. “This proposed limitation restricts victims' rights to effectively access justice and ignores many of the most obvious underlying issues associated with sexual harassment. Jamaicans for Justice believes that Section 25 (3) sends a message that is inconsistent with the spirit and the purpose of the proposed legislation and ultimately diminishes its scope as a mechanism created to protect victims from sexual harassment,” the release said.

“JFJ wishes to remind legislators that the dispensation of justice does not have an expiration date and, in protecting our most vulnerable, we should ensure that institutions and organisations within our society are incapable of losing or abandoning their legally prescribed duties and responsibilities because there has been a lapse in time. As a society built on democracy and the rule of law, we are guided by the need to guarantee a basic and fundamental human right, such as the right to access justice and the proposed limitation seems arbitrary, disproportionate to the desired effect, and likely to rob victims of a viable means of securing redress.

“Moreover, imposing a provision of this nature is dismissive of the fact that victims do not always nor are they able to report matters quickly as they are often in positions of vulnerability brought about by harassers wielding their positions of authority and power. Instead, the provision in its current form allows perpetrators, harassers, abusers, and derelict institutions to wait, intimidate or threaten victims into silence for 12 months which inherently allows them to avoid accountability.

The rights groups said it has written to members of the joint select committee, outlining its reasoning on the issue and a detailed analysis of why the amount of time given for reporting sexual matters should be more.

“... The letter, which will be personally delivered to members of the joint select committee, is now open for public signature and we are, therefore, inviting concerned Jamaicans to visit our website via to publicly sign the letter endorsing our call for legal reform. We are urging the committee to amend the Bill by either removing the limitation being proposed or where such is deemed necessary, to create a limit that allows for the longest reasonable time for a complaint to be made which is consistent with the limits that already exist for other civil claims,” said the human rights group.