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Supporting Jamaica’s legal system

The Commonwealth in Action: Petrona Sealey-Browne is a CFTC expert at the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in Jamaica. Lainy Malkani writes about Petrona's work.

Sitting behind her desk in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel (OPC) at the Ministry of Justice in Jamaica, Petrona Sealey-Browne is scanning the newspapers. It has become part of her daily routine for the last four years. She is searching for the latest news in Jamaica’s fight against corruption and one of the fastest growing crimes in the country: lottery scams.

Petrona has good reason to keep a close eye on newspaper reports. It is how she knows that the legislation she helped to create is working to protect thousands of people from organised crime.  

"Lottery scams affect some of the most vulnerable people in society", she explains. "Criminals promise their victims, usually older people from the US, amazing offers to dupe them into transferring their money. It could be a luxurious vacation or the chance to buy property. Once the money has been sent, the scammers are never heard from again."

St Vincent born, Petrona has been a legislative drafter since 1995 and has shared her expertise in various countries in the Caribbean region including Grenada, St Vincent and St Lucia.

Her first CFTC assignment took her to Grenada in 2005, where she established the Legislative Draft Unit and trained four attorneys.

Appointed a Senior Legislative Drafting Consultant in Jamaica in 2012, a post funded by the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC), Petrona has developed key legislation which has served to protect the public and strengthen laws in Jamaica.

Her work has seen many successes. Amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Act mean that criminals engaging in lottery scams will have their assets seized by the courts. Special provisions under the Law Reform Act established a task force to investigate criminal gangs.

To date, thirty-nine major operations have been carried out by the task force, seriously disrupting several criminal networks. The initiative recovered ‘lead lists’, containing a staggering 1.2 million names of clients, their addresses and telephone numbers, which were sold to criminal gangs by insiders at call centres. Over 350 arrests have been made and millions of dollars seized.

"Good legislation", she says, "which is in tune with the specific needs of a country, is crucial because it dictates the behaviour of the people. Without it, policy is not always developed in a way that best serves the government of the day and ultimately the people of the country."

It is why she drafted legislation to allow the courts to hear evidence from witnesses via audio visual links and video recordings. The Evidence (Special Measures) Act was a response to the growing number of witnesses who either withdrew their statements in court or were too afraid to travel to Jamaica to give evidence because of intimidation or fear of reprisals. 

"It means that witnesses will now be able to give evidence remotely and as a result enable the security forces to successfully prosecute alleged offenders", she adds.
Over the last past four years, Petrona has been able to make a positive impact on initiatives to combat crime and corruption in Jamaica. In addition to drafting legislation, her assignment also included sharing her expertise with other legal personnel in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.

"There is a dearth of Legislative Drafters in the Caribbean. The CFTC programme enables you to impart your knowledge and expertise and use your experience to train others."

During her assignment she has trained four of her colleagues, giving them hands-on experience of drafting crime and anti-corruption legislation. She has also extended her expertise to other departments involved in drafting legislation and provided legal advice to other government departments.

Former Minister of Justice, Mark Golding, who worked closely Mrs Sealey-Browne, speaks about the value of the contributions made by the Commonwealth expert. “The engagement of Mrs. Sealey-Browne came at a particularly crucial time for Jamaica, as our borrowing programme with the IMF required the enactment of numerous legislative reforms by specific dates within a relatively short period,” he says.  

He adds: “Her addition to the team at the Office of Parliamentary Counsel made a significant positive difference to the output of that department, and improved morale by enabling the greater sharing of their heavy workload.  To date Jamaica has successfully met each of its legislative deliverables under the IMF programme.” 

But it has not been a one-way process, she says, she has also learnt a great deal from her time in Jamaica.

 "If I had not been assigned to this project, I would not have been able to learn how to draft legislation to combat fraudulent practices. It has empowered me with skills that I can now transfer to other countries in creating laws to protect its citizens."

Petrona has a great sense of satisfaction that her work has had tangible results and has helped some of the most vulnerable in society. She says: “You feel proud when you draft a piece of legislation that works”.