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#493791 - 07/24/14 10:54 AM The Gun Law's Unintended Consequences
Marty Online   happy

And while that alleged joint enterprise for drug trafficking swept up eight persons, another similar law that has garnered much criticism for its use and misuse by police is the gun law. The last controversial case we reported on was predicament of the Smith family from Giles Street.

Right after the funeral for their teenaged brother and son, the entire family was arrested and charged with firearm offences earlier this month, even after they tried their best to explain to the police officers that the gun did not belong to any of the residents. They were released last week Tuesday, after a week on remand, and at the end, it was proven in court that they didn't have to endure that ordeal for that unlicensed weapon because one of the persons charged accepted guilt for it.

Yesterday, our colleagues from KREM News spoke with Attorney General Wilfred Elrington about cases like the Smith's, and he said that the Government did not foresee the unintended and painful consequence the application of this amended law would create:

Hon. Wilfred Elrington - Minister of Foreign Affairs
"My own situation is a very simple one, I don't like incarcerating anyone. I don't like anybody to be detained or imprisoned, and certainly people who are innocent. Very painful situation; I had a whole family on Victoria Street who are a large measure my supporters for year. And a catch of drugs or a gun was found on the neighbour's house, but everybody in my constituency's home, everybody was taken and locked up in the prison. For a long period of time, young people, the poor lady was washing her clothes, all her clothes were left on the washboard, and it got rotten and messed up. And these are people who really and truly are hard working poor people who really committed no offence. Victoria Street is a difficult area and some of the kids are difficult, but these adults really, obviously were not involved in anyway; that thing pain me so much and of course Mr. Smith is also somebody who I know very well. When I go on walks in the morning he is out there with his dog; He doesn't interfere with anybody. I don't know his wife, but I know one or two of his kids but he is a guy if you don't mess with him, he doesn't interfere with you. So when I heard that all of them were locked up I felt so distressed. Problem is that when we write these laws, normally we try to deal with one problem but it always have unintended consequences and those consequences are so painful. The question is, how do you arrive at the correct balance – because unquestionably we seem to have a lot of guns and far too many Belizeans are dying from guns. It is not that we are not very sympathetic and I heard of a magistrate who had taken away a gun because he wanted to prevent possible harm done to another person by his friend; Police met him with the gun and locked him up. These are sad situations and very painful ones and one would have to be heartless not to be moved by them. I will tell you from my own personal point of view, I would want to find a situation where we can avoid carrying everybody they find in the house to court and locking them up. I will be most in favour of causing that kind of legislation to be enacted if we can find the right words. The problem is you see that, the real problem that we find is that you find a gun in a house and the police say alright I will not take everybody, I will take one person and you charge that one person. That person gets into court and say look, it is not my gun, that gun belongs to x and y in the house what do you do then. Magistrate if forced to throw the case out so nobody gets convicted. You see, but if you carry everybody, the thinking is; Well, if everybody is on the stand the others will be able to say look, we are not responsible, he is the one and he will not be in a position to deny this is for that reason that we find this unfortunate situation."

The Firearms Act was amended in 2008 and 2010, when the Government was trying to get tough on crime.

Channel 7


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#495388 - 09/05/14 03:57 PM Re: The Gun Law's Unintended Consequences [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy

Amendments prepared to “soften” gun law

Government’s legal counsel, Gian Ghandi, SC, told Amandala today that amendments to both the Firearms Act and the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act have been prepared and should be introduced in Parliament at tomorrow’s meeting of the House of Representatives.

Although he would not get into the details of the impending amendment, Ghandi, who played a key role in the drafting, said that the provisions of the existing legislation would be “softened.”

Ghandi said that the provision which is being revised in the Firearm Act had caused concerns because if the police find an illegal weapon on someone’s premises, they charge everyone at the location.

Furthermore, under the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act, the magistrate hearing the case has no discretionary power to decide on bail matters. In such cases, there is a mandatory remand and persons may be locked up for two weeks before the Supreme Court can even hear their request for bail.

Ghandi said that the amendments are intended to “mitigate hardships currently being caused by the legislation.”

Amandala


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#495445 - 09/07/14 10:53 AM Re: The Gun Law's Unintended Consequences [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy

Firearm Bill and Legal Professional Bill tabled at House Sitting

There were two bills tabled at Friday’s House Sitting namely, the Firearms Amendment Bill, the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Bill and the Legal Professional Bill.

The Firearms Amendment Bill entails legislation regarding who is considered responsible and arrested when a firearm is found. The Crime Control and Criminal Justice Bill details the specifics of bail for firearm offences.

While the bills have been tabled Prime Minister Dean Barrow said the drafting of the bills is a work in progress. “I think it is getting at the central aspects of the current law that need to be fixed so perhaps we could have taken the chance and simply passed it today, but I think it has to be better to wait for a couple week,” Barrow said.

“We are going to try to come back to the house as soon as Independence to give people a chance to have their say and if there is more fixing that we have come up with that needs to be done then let’s try to get it right by the time we come back for second and third readings,” he added.

According to Barrow they are looking particularly at the provision in the law which, allows for every person in a household to be arrested and charged for any firearm found on that premises. “That is one aspect that’s being dealt with, the question of joint possession and trying to ensure that there is not this automatic joint possession charge,” Barrow continued.

Barrow also indicated that they would be making changes to the provision which says that a person can be granted bail 14 days after being arrested so that persons with no known gang connections can be released before.

The Legal Professional Bill seeks to install the Chief Justice as the chairman of the General Legal Council and would make it so that lawyers are no longer required to join the Bar Association.

“Principally we will still look to the Bar Association, but very simply it means that I can practice law without paying the fee and without joining the Bar Association,” Barrow explained. The Prime Minister also indicated that he would resign from the Bar and stop paying his fee.

The Reporter


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#496366 - 10/03/14 11:12 AM Re: The Gun Law's Unintended Consequences [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy

New, More Rational Gun Law Passed

We've already covered all the headline news coming out of today's House Meeting in Belmopan - but the House Business also had some big news. First was the passage of the Firearms Amendment Bill - which is to rationalize gun possession laws, the make it so that persons who may have been wrongfully detained can get bail. The Leader of the opposition said that he thinks it still doesn't go far enough in relaxing the punitive provisions of the law:..

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of The Opposition
"It still remains that section 6A of the firearm act we believe is unconstitutional; it infringes the presumption of innocence, it still throws a very wide net on a wide class of innocent citizens because we believe that while the current amendment is a step in the right direction, it does not in fact cure and address the real problem that is really at the root of the outcry that the public has about this matter."

Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of Nat'l Security
"We considered the position on the matter of bail by the magistrate and Cabinet has agreed to make an amendment on the committee of the whole that would allow for first time offenders to apply directly to the magistrate for bail, while other convicted criminals in certain areas of the law will still have to wait the 10 days waiting period and apply to the supreme court for bail."

That bill was passed by the House today and must now go to the Senate.

Channel 7


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#496603 - 10/09/14 10:23 AM Re: The Gun Law's Unintended Consequences [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy

New Gun Law To Senate

Today, the Senate met to discuss the Amendments to the Firearm Act and the Legal Profession Act. As we've told you, the Government is seeking to rationalize the gun laws so that persons who have been wrongfully detained can get bail.

As we've featured in our newscast many times in the past, the gun laws have been criticized as being too oppressive, and today, the Leader of Government Business, Senator Godwin Hulse, told the press that he joins those who have been pushing for this change, even if it is only incremental:

Hon. Godwin Hulse, Minister of Immigration

"As I said in the senate, let's be clear, I have been on this gun thing forever. You can probably dig in your archives for some of my speeches I gave on it. I've had personal experience or being roughed up by police, arrested and charged and it's not nice and I didn't know what hit me, where this was coming from? So i've been an advocate of this, we have discussed in cabinet in depth. The prime minister and cabinet is aware that in fact this is an issue that the Belizean people are concerned about but there is a delicate balance. Today's bill is an incremental move forward. The minister of national security and the police, especially the police are adamant, you can't tie our hands behind our back and hope us to act. I am here to tell you, when the kid John Avilez was shot that night and family and friends who knew the kid and his parents were rallying around at the hospital, the police were saying minister we don't want our hands tied, we can do this, we can do that, but there is a delicate balance; Protecting the rights of people and at the same time making sure that you catch the criminal. You don't want to send a signal that says, well looks boys, we are hands off you or at the same token have everybody frightened that they might go to jail. That is why the amendment today, and I can tell you a further amendment is coming to allow the bail before a magistrate because that's where the mischief is. If a gun is found in your possession or where you live, the police have a right to take some action. They can't just say, you won't investigate, in your house or in your vehicle or somewhere, you must have something to day."

And in relation to the Legal Profession Act, Hulse said that he agrees with Freedom of Association as the guiding principle in the change to the law:

Hon. Godwin Hulse

"I will not get into lawyers disputes, but let's face it, the constitution guarantees the right of association and nobody should be forced if they want to, to join an association, it's as simple as that."

Our news team returned form Belmopan late this evening, and so tomorrow, we'll show you a bit more of the Senate meeting, and what the Senators had to say about those bills, which are now awaiting assent from the Governor General.

Channel 7


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#496647 - 10/10/14 10:54 AM Re: The Gun Law's Unintended Consequences [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy

Senate Debates New Gun Law

Minister John Saldivar has also been integral in the amendments to the gun law which has been publicly criticized on many different occasions as being oppressive to citizens.

As we've told you, the amendments to the law, after months of work came in the form of the Firearm Amendment Bill and the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Bill. These amendments were supposed to rationalize the law so that first time offenders wouldn't be tied up in jail for unreasonable amounts of time, as is currently the case.

As we told you, yesterday, those bills were passed by the Senate, and awaited the Govern General's Assent to law.

The Senators got their chance to debate the bill, and it received quite a number of negative reviews because those senators who don't support it say that these bills do not provide any sort of institutional alleviation to the problems created by the "draconian gun law" currently in effect.

Here are a few excerpts from yesterday's debate:

Senator Godwin Hulse
"The executive has taken a decision that there will be another amendment which will seek to make persons who are first time offenders be able to go before a magistrate to get bail so they don't have to languish in jail days or more until they are able to make their application to the Supreme Court. That should be coming shortly, but I wanted to say that this whole business of firearms Mr. President is something that we can't take likely and we understand the dynamics of everyday politics etc., but we have to understand that in this country this whole issue of firearms needs really some draconian legislation. If I had my way I wouldn't be walking any gun, I could tell you that because people are shooting with impunity, it's like even the birds - hunter men don't shoot with such intent and carelessness if you like. These days people walk around, fire a shot, who dead is dead, who is caught in the cross fire that's their business."

Senator Anthony Sylvestre
"Under the proposed amendment Ms. Romi Anthony and her daughter Yvette Lynch, Yannick Ovado, Emily Garcia, Natalie Coleman, Sonia Esperanza Marroquin, the entire Smith family - all these people will still be arrested and charged and carted off for at least 14 days because they will still be caught under the act. This infamous section 6A; the head of the family, the person in charge - these people will still be arrested and carted off to prison. The amendment which is proposed in this bill Mr. President, does nothing."

Senator Lisa Shoman
"This law is going to have the effect of making more and more of our citizens un-convicted, un-apprehended felons through no fault of their own. What we have instead is a pig that is considerably uglier and there we are busily putting lipstick and rough on the said pig. That is not what the people of Belize expect us to do Mr. President."

Senator Mark Lizarraga
"We cannot seek to correct a bad law and replace it with another flawed law. The present law as we all know is bad and flawed and unjust because it can and has been use to indiscriminately punish the innocent, perhaps along with the guilty and it opens the door like the good Senator Hulse said for mischief."

This evening, we spoke with PUP Senator and legal adviser Anthony Sylvester and he said that while the amendment does give discretion to persons of good character, in practice, he believes it will fail.

As noted in the interview, the amendment which will allow Magistrates to consider bail for first time offenders at the initial arraignment, is supposed to arrive in the next amendments.

Channel 7


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