Earlier this year the Government of Belize indicated interest in revising the gun laws after a series of controversies, including the release of public officer Reynaldo Verde from a mooted firearm charge and the release of Police Corporal Gino Peck after a little-used section of the law was implemented.

But planned consultations have not taken place and the People’s United Party (PUP) proposed amendments have not been responded to.

Today the party said it would initiate debate at the next session of the National Assembly by invoking its powers to present bills of its own.

An official statement from the party states that twice, on February 12 and again on March 19, Minister of National Security John Saldivar was written to with regard to the promised review process.

The party’s draft amendments were included and the correspondence copied to Acting Solicitor General Nigel Hawke, Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryl-Lynn Vidal and President of the Bar Association and senior PUP member Eamon Courtenay. The Minister has yet to reply.

The party notes that the call for review came as a result of the activism of pressure groups like Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA).

Even so, the laws continue in place and many the party deems “innocent” continue to be arrested and processed through the legal system.

It refers to the recent case of nurse Bernadette Samuels, charged with six young men after police searched a residence and found two 9mm bullets in the compartment of a standing fan.

The party says issues like these bring consequences in terms of investor confidence and overall governance.

Legal advisor Anthony Sylvestre cited the standing orders of the House and Senate which allow any member to move a motion for leave to introduce a bill.

Typically only the Government does this but theoretically any member can with only advance notice to the Clerk of the National Assembly.

The party’s proposals include amending the Firearms Act to repeal the section which states that bail is denied to all persons where gun-related offences are involved.

Bail should only be denied in cases of robbery with a firearm; aggravated assault with a firearm and the possession of unlicensed firearm and ammunition.

They also believe that after 6 years of what they call “an aggressive gun law,” that it is time to revisit and amend the legislation which imposes “draconian” penalties.

The PUP is also suggesting that the legislation be amended to return discretion to Magistrates to be able to grant bail in special extenuating circumstances under the jurisdiction of the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act.

Patrick Jones


Gun Law Reform Revision Still on Hold

Earlier this year the Government of Belize indicated interest in revising the gun laws after a series of controversies, including the release of public officer Reynaldo Verde from a mooted firearm charge and the release of Police Corporal Gino Peck after a little-used section of the law was implemented.

But planned consultations have not taken place and the People’s United Party (PUP) proposed amendments have not been responded to. Today the party said it would initiate debate at the next session of the National Assembly by invoking its powers to present bills of its own.

An official statement from the party states that twice, on February 12 and again, on March 19, Minister of National Security John Saldivar was written to with regard to the promised review process.

vlcsnap-2014-05-21-18h30m46s158The party’s draft amendments were included and the correspondence copied to Acting Solicitor General Nigel Hawke, Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryl-Lynn Vidal and President of the Bar Association and senior PUP member Eamon Courtenay.

The Minister has yet to reply. The party notes that the call for review came as a result of the activism of pressure groups like Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA).

Even so, the laws continue in place and many the party deems “innocent” continue to be arrested and processed through the legal system. It refers to the recent case of nurse Bernadette Samuels, charged with six young men after police searched a residence and found two 9mm bullets in the compartment of a standing fan.

The party says issues like these bring consequences in terms of investor confidence and overall governance.

Legal advisor Anthony Sylvestre cited the standing orders of the House and Senate which allow any member to move a motion for leave to introduce a bill. Typically only the Government does this but theoretically any member can with only advance notice to the Clerk of the National Assembly.

The party’s proposals include amending the Firearms Act to repeal the section which states that bail is denied to all persons where gun-related offences are involved. Bail should only be denied in cases of robbery with a firearm; aggravated assault with a firearm and the possession of unlicensed firearm and ammunition.

They also believe that after 6 years of what they call “an aggressive gun law,” that it is time to revisit and amend the legislation which imposes “draconian” penalties.

The PUP is also suggesting that the legislation be amended to return discretion to Magistrates to be able to grant bail in special extenuating circumstances under the jurisdiction of the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act.

PlusTV


PUP Pushes For New Gun Law

In February, Belize's gun laws were all in the news.  COLA and the PUP alleged that they were unjust and unevenly applied.  The COLA thing has cooled off, but the PUP says it hasn't given up on trying to change the laws.  The PUP's legal team wrote to the Minister of National Security with their proposed amendments on February 12th.  At the time Minister Saldivar said in the house that government had commenced a review of the laws quote, "to find some fair and less draconian laws." 

That was February and it sounded good because everyone seemed to be moving in the same direction  - towards less stringent gun laws. But the PUP says that they haven't heard back from Government and so now the opposition is going to try and take their own Firearms Amendment Bill to the House of Representatives.  The party's legal advisor hosted a press conference today to explain how and why:…

Anthony Sylvestre - Legal Advisor, PUP
"Given the Government's obvious unwillingness to make the necessary amendments to the Firearms laws, it is the Opposition's imperative to therefore act to have these laws removed to end the pain, suffering, injustice, and hardship caused daily to our people when they are carted off to prison at least 2 weeks for no good reason. Therefore, in furtherance and fulfilment of its duty, the PUP will move in the National Assemble at the next sitting of the House or the Senate a motion for leave to introduce a bill for an act to amend the Firearms Act, and a motion for leave to introduce an Act to amend the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act."

We should note that in Belize's parliamentary history – no bill or motions tabled by the oppositions has ever succeeded, so the prospects for this one are dim.

Indeed, the only thing on the opposition's side is that it is a current issue.  Recently, we reported on the case of Bernadette Samuels a nurse at the KHMH who fell ill after she was charged along with five others for two rounds of ammunition and 1.2 grammes of cannabis.  All of them were remanded – which Sylvester says is an injustice – first because the law forces police to charge everyone:..

Anthony Sylvestre - Legal Advisor, PUP
"It forces the police officer to charge someone even when there may not be any reasonable basis or suspicion for that person to be charged. So that, you have a situation in example with - and I will not speak to much because the case is still before the courts - with the nurse from the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, Ms. Bernadette Samuels, she and 6 other persons were charged for being in possession of 2 ammunitions which were found in a concealed compartment in a standing fan. Clearly, you don't have to be an attorney or a rocket scientist to realize that something clearly is wrong. All of those persons could not be conceivably be able to - given the nature in which it was found - to have knowledge of those particular rounds of ammunition."

Jules Vasquez
"Would you entertain the argument that the law was intended as a deterent, and that it may have indeed acted as that?"

Anthony Sylvester
"Again, as you say, there is no statistics to prove or establish what you've said."

Notice requesting leave to introduce the bills will be given to the House but no date has been set for the next House Sitting. 

Just a few minutes ago, National Security minister John Saldivar responded to our text message request for a comment.  He says, quote,
"The ministry of national security and other relevant agencies of the government of Belize are conducting a review of all the legislation pertaining to firearms and ammunition and will make recommendations for amendments when they have completed this review."  He adds, quote, "We will not be hastened by any individual or organization whose purpose in agitating for change is self-serving and not for the purpose of finding a meaningful solution to the deficiencies of the current legislation governing firearms and ammunition" end quote.

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