PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago, November 13, 2019 (CMC) – The Trinidad and Tobago government has defended the move to further amend the Bail (Amendment) Bill, even as opposition legislators criticised the “reactive measure” in dealing with crime on the twin-island nation.
Attorney General, Faris Al-Rawi, said the amendments, which are now being debated in the Senate, were necessary, in order to deal with an increase in the use of high powered weapons, here.
The amended legislation seeks to restrict bail for persons, held with illegal weapons, for 120 days, and the Attorney General said that just as bail was denied to reduce incidents of kidnapping, there was need to amend the existing legislation, to deal with gun crime that had become out of control.
He said while the Constitution states that you ought not to deny bail “without just cause”, a society like Trinidad and Tobago fighting the scourge of crime, “having sub-machine guns, having thousands of reported matters, having murder statistics close to 500 right now….we are fighting a scourge”.
He urged opposition legislators to provide the necessary parliamentary majority needed, in order to ensure the passage of the legislation.
National Security Minister, Stuart Young, told the Senate that there had been 455 murders as at November 11, of which 144 were gang-related, 60 for revenge and 53 drug-related.
He said 88.2 percent of the murders were committed with guns, and that there were 625 shootings and woundings so far this year, compared to 418 last year.
“That is like a war zone,” Young said, even as he disagreed with a position, by Opposition Senator, Saddam Hosein, that Trinidad and Tobago should examine Jamaica’s bail legislation, which denies bail for 60 days and allows a review, every 14 days.
“Let us not be fooled by what takes in Jamaica. We are fighting hard in National Security to make sure we do not get anywhere near, what our brothers and sisters are facing in Jamaica. Their murder rate is over 1,800 a year,” Young noted.
Young said that the Jamaica legislation allowed for the government there, to go to Parliament to declare an area a state of emergency. But when that measure was raised in the Parliament, here, he opposed it, because he knew it would not work.
“It is an acceptance that there is nothing left behind you. And I stood with the men and women in our security service and apparatus and said, ‘Under my watch, that will not happen’; because we have not exhausted every single opportunity and every single operation, legally, we can do, within the parameters of the law, to fight the scourge of what is going on out there,” he stated.
He said police crime statistics showed, from January-October 31, this year, police seized 841 illegal firearms, compared to 702 for the same period last year.
Young told legislators that he had chaired a meeting, with the heads of all the divisions and the second-in-command of the police, on Monday, and the conclusion was “the murder rates, the use of violent crime, in our opinion, are at risk of running away”.
But Hosein described the amended legislation as a “reactive measure”, given that the Police Commissioner, Gary Griffith, had complained about the manner in which the courts, here, were granting bail to persons on firearm-related charges.
“The Minister of National Security is responsible for setting the policy of the government. The Attorney General is responsible for converting that policy into law and bringing it to the Parliament. And thirdly, the Commissioner of Police is charged with the responsibility to enforce the laws that this particular Parliament passes. That is how I understand the system to work.
“The Commissioner of Police expressed severe dissatisfaction, with respect to an instance that took place in the courts, with respect to the granting of bail. And all of a sudden, there is an amendment to the Bail Act. So it seems, in this country, that the Commissioner of Police has to fight crime, he has to tell the government which law he want and he has to create policy,” he argued, saying it showed the incompetence of the present administration.
He said that the high powered guns were coming into the country, as a result of the porous borders, and that the “figures show a booming trade”.
“Crime is probably the most booming trade in Trinidad and Tobago,” he said, criticising the government over its piece-meal approach to the legislation.