Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Attorneys condemn proposal

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Opposition to the Police (Amendment) Bill 2017 is mounting.

The Barbados Bar Association, along with two constitutional experts, yesterday added their voice to the growing criticism against the amendments, which seek, among other things, to give expanded powers to the Royal Barbados Police Force. They include authority to impose cordons and curfews, to stop and search people and vehicles, and to enter homes within the cordon – all without a warrant.

When he piloted the amendment bill in the House of Assembly on January 23, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite said the legislative powers were necessary to address the harder challenges police faced in fighting criminals.

But the Bar, the professional body representing lawyers, implied the amendments were unconstitutional and unnecessary. It said no substantial reason had been given for the amendments, as the powers being sought were presently available to the police, but required special circumstances to be used for good reason.

In a media statement yesterday, it argued that as the Constitution of Barbados was the supreme law of the land to which all other laws were subservient, “any law found to be in conflict with the Constitution is bad ab initio (from its beginning) and of no effect”.

Further, the lawyers contended the Constitution could not be changed by the enactment of normal domestic legislation.

“It is therefore particularly concerning that the Police Amendment Bill seeks, in certain circumstances, to limit the constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms of individuals but not in accordance with the Constitution itself, where there is in fact provision in the Constitution to effect the same,” stated the release under the name of president Liesel Weekes.

“There is a reason that the existing provisions for invoking the enhanced powers of the police are subject to the strictest of protocols and the most limited of circumstances. These criteria do not exist to frustrate the ability of the police to respond to situations, but rather to protect the rights of citizens and to uphold the protections in the Constitution,” it added.

The association called for “wide consultation” on the amendment.

Constitutional expert Ezra Alleyne contended that the amendments were draconian. He said legislation that potentially “can whittle down the fundamental rights of people” deserved greater consultation with the public. The veteran attorney said he had no doubt that if the amendments in their present form were passed into law, their constitutionality would be challenged.

Another constitutional expert, Jeff Cumberbatch, deputy dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill, in his weekly column last Sunday said he was troubled by the amendments.

“There is little doubt that the proposed legislation, even though not titled emergency powers legislation, approximates to this by enlarging the police power, with a concomitant loss of liberty on the part of an affected citizen,” he wrote.

Human rights attorney David Comissiong objected to the amendments on the Starcom Network call-in programme Getting Down To Brass Tacks yesterday. He again called on Barbadians to speak up on the measures, as if passed into law, they threatened to erode their constitutional rights, especially those in working class districts. (SP)

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