The House of Representatives met on Wednesday and the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act and the Firearms Act were not on the schedule for the day’s events. This, according to the Opposition, People’s United Party, was an indication that the Government does not see the public outcry to amend or repeal the Law as an issue of pressing national importance. So today, the PUP held a press conference at its Queen Street headquarters to scrutinize the Law and with the assistance of two of its Legal Advisors, Anthony Sylvestre Junior and Karim Musa, it did. And the party hopes to make proposals with amendments that it hopes to present to the Government and other relevant offices. PUP Leader, Francis Fonseca, explained first.
“We recognize the importance for us to remain vigilant and tough on crime; crime is a real problem in our society but certainly when the citizens of our country are of a growing view that these particular laws are being applied inequitably, we certainly have an obligation to look at those laws and so, our message today is that we have done our work; we have proposed specific amendments to these particular laws, the Firearms Act and the Crime Control Criminal Justice Act; we are going to make that available to the Government of Belize; we want to work with the government on this issue.”
KARIM MUSA, Advisor, PUP
“In relation to the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act which is the law that affects a citizen’s right to bail, we have circulated to the press, what we consider to be necessary but responsible changes to that piece of legislation; it would be very easy for us to say repeal the 2008 amendment completely and to take out all references to any firearms offense but that would not be the responsible thing to do. We are aware that some firearm offenses are very serious and indeed very prevalent offenses but we are also very cognizant of the fact that many innocent people are being punished and treated like criminals and that has to end. It is for this very reason that we propose that the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act be amended to state that the charges under which an accused is not granted bail as of right under the Firearms Act be restricted to (1) robbery with a firearm (2) aggravated assault with a firearm and (3) possession of unlicensed firearm and ammunition.”
ANTHONY SYLVESTRE JR, Advisor, PUP
“Upon coming into office, this UDP in June 2008 passed into law a provision which introduced a wide cast net on many otherwise innocent citizens. It now became the law that a person doesn’t have to be present at a premise where the police found the ammunition but by virtue of him solely living at that particular house, that person would have been deemed to be in possession of that ammunition or firearm and the law further required that person, it put an onus on him to prove that he did not have any knowledge of that firearm or ammunition being there or he did not consent to that being there; in other words the legislators have sought to make ordinary persons who would otherwise be innocent deemed criminal by virtue of where they may live, where they work or in a vehicle they may be traveling in at the time. We, of the PUP are proposing that the provision be repealed from the Firearms Act, that is to say that such a provision is taken out of the Firearms Act altogether. Upon coming into office, the UDP Government inserted, what in the legal field is referred to as the mandatory minimum sentence. Recently, as well the CCJ has declared that a mandatory minimum sentence is also unconstitutional; it cannot be right that a person who is found guilty of possession of one ammunition will face the same penalty as a person, who may have five ammunition and as a consequence, we are therefore urging the Government to amend the existing provision which is Section 32 which deals with penalties and our respectful recommendation to the government is that Section 32 be amended to take away this mandatory minimum sentence and restore the discretion to the magistrate.”