Dangerous times call for extreme measures
-De Santos tells Parliament
Stabroek News
September 29, 2002

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Former Attorney General Bernard Dos Santos told Parliament on Thursday, that dangerous and extraordinary times called for extreme measures.

Anyone who put the life and limb of a citizen at risk deserved to pay the ultimate price, he argued during the debate on the Criminal Law (Offences) Amendment Bill which was eventually passed.

The bill had been subject to criticism from the Bar Association, among others, prior to its passage.

De Santos said there was no time for a detailed analysis of the legislation as this would be akin to fiddling while the country continued to burn.

Government, he said, had a duty to deal with the matter especially now that the law enforcement agencies were being besieged by criminal types with unlicensed weapons.

"When the citizenry is crying out for protection, government cannot remain idle," Dos Santos said. He was adamant that the bill infringed none of the current provisions guaranteeing civil liberties and freedoms, and he emphasized that no freedom was open-ended.

He challenged persons who felt that the legislation was in any way offensive, to test its legality in the court. He further acknowledged that he trusted the judiciary wholly to give the bill, once it engaged their attention, a true and correct interpretation once it was challenged.

As far as he was concerned the bill passed its tests of necessity and constitutionality and it was worthy of being enacted into law.

According to Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj who piloted the bill through the house much criticism had been levelled against its implementation, but the government saw the need to act given the state of the crime situation.

Gajarj told Parliament that the measures were merely being enacted so as to be an effective deterrent to persons undertaking such acts that might be viewed as terroristic.

He said the act under which the legislation was being introduced was not new, but with the development of society there was a need to update laws to bring them into sync with modern times.

According to Gajraj the bills did not in any way seek to infringe on any fundamental rights of citizens which he said were absolute under the constitution.

GAP/WPA Member of Parliament Sheila Holder was the lone member from the coalition in attendance given the absence of Shirley Melville. She saw the Criminal Law (Offences) Amendment Bill as perhaps the most controversial of the four bills before the house. She pointed to several examples which she claimed showed the inadequate nature of the measures while highlighting that they fell short of precise standards of drafting.

According to Holder, she had sought the advice of "a highly respected Guyanese and Caribbean jurist" whose analysis found among other things that the application of the bill could be retroactive given the use of the past tense phrase "has resulted."

"It is necessary to state that the drafting of these bills, including others on the order paper leaves a lot to be desired and falls short of the precise standards required in the drafting of criminal legislation," Holder said.

She further doubted the government's assurances that it would protect citizen's rights and said the amendments may, if not now then at some future time under a different administration, be used as a political weapon in the absence of safeguards.

Holder, despite acknowledging the need for new legislation to deal with the spiralling crime situation, was not too sure that the current legislation would adequately serve as a deterrent given that legislation already on the books did not.

Holder said that while the GAP/WPA agreed there should be new legislation they never envisaged that the new laws would seek to trample on the rights of citizens and embody the definition 'terrorist' as this would lead to higher levels of insecurity in some sections of our society.

She further cautioned that once enacted a piece of legislation would hold sway for the people even opening up possibilities of it being used as a political weapon by an administration with no scruples.

She sought from the Home Affairs Minister reasons as to why the existing laws for murder, manslaughter and other such offences seemed to be inadequate in dealing with the existing situation.

Holder further deemed the measures as a short sighted approach by the government in dealing with the escalating criminal activity.

She further advised that the government should instead seek to catch the bandits and deal them a dose of swift justice to deter others who might fancy a life of crime. Holder also advocated stricter enforcement of laws already on the statute books. The member ended her remarks by asking that the bill be sent to a select committee to clear up some of the misconceptions and other issues outlined in the measures. Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Doodnauth Singh, at the commencement of his presentation sought to defuse the issue of lack of consultation be it adequate or not.

He sought to put on record a meeting held between Parliamentary Affairs Minister Reepu Daman Persaud, himself and PNC/R Chief Whip and frontbencher Lance Carberry which took place on Tuesday. During that briefing the PNC/R, he said, was made aware of the implications of the bills along with receiving copies of sister legislation on how the issue had been dealt with in other parts of the Commonwealth and the Caribbean.

Singh examined what was meant by 'terrorist activity' looking at definitions applied to terrorism while highlighting the principle outlined in the Union of India legislation from which a minor portion of the bill had been extracted.

The definition of what constituted a terrorist act, according to Singh was almost identical to the definition of that which obtained in the greatest democracy in the world - the Union of India. He challenged anyone to dare to say that anything defined in the legislation as a terrorist act ought not to be there.

The legislation, he argued, was timely, and adequately filled a void in the local legislation.

Referring to the Bar Association Singh said, "Let them come to court and we will defend it."

ROAR Leader and Member of Parliament, Ravi Dev, took the view that government was entitled to pass legislation for the protection of public safety.

On the question of the need for a bill on terrorism, he said that his party acknowledged that such a need existed although he stressed that the crime was not a new

phenomenon locally.

He cited the fact that the words 'terrorist' and 'terrorism' had been widely used as far back as the sixties when the government and opposition traded words on the issue while branding each with the tag.

Dev saw the importance of some of the legislation, especially given the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction which were now widely available locally.

If there is need for such an act, he said, then it had to be cut from a cloth that did not infringe on civil liberties.

He noted the need for a more comprehensive approach to legislation which paid careful attention to details about the use of the army in and out of the declaration of states of emergency as well as sorting out any ambiguity that may exist.

The legislation, he continued, was too simplistic in nature and did not look at mechanisms to tackle terrorism as done in other countries.

He hoped there would be compensation for victims of such actions.

ROAR he said would have liked to see the bill being deferred to a special select committee to look at it closely and examine all possibilities for it to play a wider role. Dev further highlighted a section that he sensed was too broad.

Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce and Leader of the TUF, Manzoor Nadir offered his party's support for the bill which he said was simple and unambiguous. He urged his former opposition colleagues not to oppose the measures for opposing's sake.