Barbados police bill sparks outrage

Senator Carol Lady Haynes.
Photo by George Alleyne

A government amendment to the law covering, police giving them expanded powers of declaring curfews, imposing cordons, stopping and searching persons and vehicles and entering homes without a warrant, has sparked resistance.

Since Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite introduced the amendments into parliament last month, a number of members of civil society have condemned the proposed changes and suggested that the document be sent out for wide public discussion and input before attempting to put it into law.

Government however used its majority in parliament to pass the Police (Amendment) Bill 2017, sending it on to the Senate where it is now being discussed before final approval.

Independent Senator Carol Lady Haynes on Wednesday became the latest person to reject the bill, and while suggesting that it be put out for general discussion among citizens she asked, “what the urgency was. Why we should be considering these sort of very severe changes, amendments to the existing Act?”

“I would like to add my voice to those colleague senators who have asked that we withdraw this bill at this point for further consideration and for wider consultation in the community.”

Senators who have so-far called for the Bill to be withdrawn for wider consultation are John Watson, Sir Henry Fraser, Sir Roy Trotman, and Wilfred Abrahams.

Among Lady Haynes’ concerns is the Bill’s proposal in two sets of circumstances to fine and or imprison persons for using ‘abusive or insulting language’ against a member of the police force while on duty.

The Bill proposes that the courts can fine a person up to $10,000 (Bds$1 = 50 cents) and or sentence the offender to as much as three years imprisonment for using ‘abusive and insulting language’ against a law officer in the course of his duty.

“That really worries me,” the Senator said. “I therefore can’t support the amendment.”

The Barbados Bar Association expressed concern “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.”

Constitutional expert Ezra Alleyne argued that the amendments potentially “can whittle down the fundamental rights of people.”

University of the West Law Lecturer, Jeff Cumberbatch, stated, “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.”

In condemning the amendments, social activist, David Comissiong, said that the Bill, “proposes to give the police powers over the Barbadian citizen’s constitutionally guaranteed rights to liberty, security of the person, and protection of the privacy of his home and other property, that are way in excess of the powers that the police currently generally possess.”

But, in contending that the amendments are in support of fighting crime, government Senator, Verla DePeiza, asked, “would you rather that the state curtails your rights and freedoms in pursuit of that greater good, or would you prefer that the criminal elements curtail your rights and freedoms in pursuit of their selfish gains?”

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