New amendments to the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act have now come into effect. The amendments were passed in the House and Senate last December as a way to clamp down on crime and violence. The act has gone through several changes and numerous of the latest amendments, gazetted on December eighteenth, are disquieting and have far reaching implications that can have the effect of infringing on the rights of citizens. For example, it allows a police officer to, without a warrant, arrest and remand any person who he deems has breached conditions of bail. Two attorneys have expressed serious concerns about the new amendments. Attorneys Dickie Bradley and Anthony Sylvestre sat with News Five Marion Ali to discuss the new law.
Marion Ali, Reporting
Most killings and robberies are carried out with the use of firearms and the government’s attempts to address the problem have come in the form of amendments to the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act. One such new amendment has raised serious concerns for two attorneys, Dickie Bradley and Anthony Sylvestre, who say that the Act is now so draconian, that it infringes on even the rights of law-abiding citizens, for owning things like flare guns, used at sea to give off distress signals, and bullet-proof vests.
Dickie Bradley, Attorney
“The amendment to the Crime Control Act makes a flare gun a prohibited material which prevents a magistrate from giving a person bail if they are charged for having possession of that flare gun, and if you are found guilty of having a flare gun you will mandatorily serve a minimum period for what is prescribed for having a prohibited firearm, which would be about three years or so, for a flare gun you know. Now I come from a long line of people who live out at sea. I’m always on boat, always di bruk down and what not. So, I’m very concerned over that. It gets worse. An amendment to the Crime Control Act says that any person who has what you call a bullet proof vest, any kind of material that you put over your body, you are in possession of a prohibited material.”
The penalty for carrying or wearing a bulletproof vest is similar to that of firearm offenses. Both attorneys explained why the law not only inhibits criminals but also law-abiding citizens.
Anthony Sylvestre, Attorney
“We’re here in the studios of Channel 5. What the amendment to the firearm provided for is that look, if a bullet or a firearm is found on the premises of say Channel 5, all those persons who are on the premises at that time, they would be deemed to be in possession, which means that everybody will be arrested and will be denied bail.”
“What if somebody out of malice says that they had sex with mi lee daughter and mi daughter wah give wah statement gainst ah. You are carted off to prison for three months. You can be one hundred percent innocent; you’re going to go to jail. And if yohnoh have money fi wah lawyer yohwah stay dah jail.”
“But if you’re proven innocent at the end of the trial can you the “victim” now or the defendant sue the government? Can you take some kind of action?”
“Well you can theoretically but one, a person should only be charged for an offense when there’s reasonable cause and that has to be based on something.”
While Bradley feels that it is important to crack down on criminals, he says the law has to also be balanced off against the liberties of citizens.
“You want to deal with men who are out there and who are carrying illegal firearms, who have no hesitation in shooting down other citizens in the course of a robbery or some beef as they call it, but at the same time you can’t be indifferent to the fact that innocent people are being grabbed up and taken to prison, and they are being forced to find money, di pawn out thing and di do all kinda thing to obtain the services of attorneys. Students who are in the vehicle and their dad left a firearm in the glove compartment or something. Yoh wah cart off everybody to prison? What is happening is that we are wanting to give the impression that yoh di fight crime by locking people before they even have a trial, by trying to punish them before they even have a trial.”
Bradley says the amendments that have taken effect over the past two years have gotten not only his attention, but that of even other notable attorneys.
“My colleague, Anthony Sylvestre and myself and other attorneys, including at one time the current Attorney General, Hon. Bernard Quinten Augustus Pitts, including a man who has practiced at the Bar for a long time, Hubert Elrington, and several other attorneys, have been expressing concerns over these amendments. There are eleven of us who have, before this amendment even came out, who have been discussing that wherever any of these terms and conditions and any of these amendments affects a client who is prepared to challenge it, we will go to the Supreme Court. We miss Dr Conteh. We will go to the Supreme Court and ask that it be struck down because it is unconstitutional. We are concerned Marion and we are going to volunteer our time, give of our free services where it is a necessity, nobody weh wah come run to wi and she bway unu she unu wah work fi free, but we are going to come together and try to see if we can urge the lawmakers to think these things out carefully, to consult with us in the Bar, to consult with the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Dehn noh consult with nobody at all.”
Both attorneys, also known to be affiliated with the opposition party, say their media appearance has nothing to do with politics, but with the consequences that the legislation imposes.
“The law don’t say anything ‘bout if any PUP person is caught with anything. Ih noh have nothing fi do with that. When you take away a man’s liberty ih probably wah lose ih job. The boss noh got three months fi wait for ah. That is what we are talking about. This law says the court, dehn di tell the court you can’t hear nobody bail application until fourteen days after they have applied for bail. That have to be unfair Marion. This last condition at the top here is saying that police officers can make an accusation against you and without a warrant, remand you and put you in Her Majesty’s Prisons. Only the court can put you in jail, you know.”
“Should be, not any more.”
“Not anymore, thank you.”
We will seek to get the Government’s reaction to the comments of these law officers as soon as the ban on Channel Five is lifted, which should be at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting. Marion Ali for News Five.