Leader of the Opposition calls for meeting with Government to propose bi-partisan approach to crime legislation
“We must put the safety, security and protection of our people first. It is our paramount responsibility to them and we must do all in our power to discharge that responsibility.”
Leader of the Opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP, is calling for a meeting with the Government to determine a bi-partisan legislative approach to the fight against crime and the criminal element, starting with two pieces of legislation: the Anti-Gang Bill and the Anti-Terrorism Act.
During a media conference at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition on Monday 8th January, 2018, the Opposition Leader indicated that she would write to the Prime Minister on this matter.
In a letter to Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley dated 10th January, 2018, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar noted that the citizens of our country have been experiencing an unprecedented level of criminal activity; with 494 murders in 2017, and an increase in the rate of killings in 2018, with 23 murders reported in just 10 days.
“People are being preyed upon by the criminal element, and the brutality of the attacks upon our women and children is horrifying,” Mrs. Persad-Bissessar said. “No place in Trinidad and Tobago feels safe. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.”
In the letter to the Prime Minister, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar noted that on the 7th December 2017, the Anti-Gang Bill 2017 was defeated in the House of Representatives as it failed to secure the requisite special majority.
The Government has stated its intention to bring this Bill back to Parliament; however, Standing Order 78 of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives prevents the re-introduction of this Bill in the House in the present parliamentary session. Consequently, unless the Government and Opposition agree to take action, this Bill cannot be re-introduced until the next session begins, after the 28th September, 2018.
“It is my respectful view that we should not wait until the end of September to revisit the anti-gang legislation, given how unsafe our country has become,” Mrs. Persad-Bissessar stated. “If the Police Service and other arms of the protective services are of the view that the passage of this legislation will assist in their ability to combat gangs and gang activity, I believe that we as leaders are duty-bound to find a bi-partisan solution to ensure the passage of this legislation with the required constitutional majority.”
She added, “We must ensure that law enforcement is provided with the powers to fight and win the battle against the criminal element”.
Mrs. Persad-Bissessar stressed that the Opposition clearly articulated its concerns and proposed amendments to the Anti-Gang Bill as presented by the Government during the debate on the Bill in late 2017.
“I expressed the view that, if properly operationalized, the anti-gang legislation could possibly assist law enforcement in the fight against gangs and the criminal element,” she noted. “The Opposition was prepared to support the passage of the legislation with the inclusion of a short sunset clause – we believe a tight rein must be kept on this law, given the past and potential future abuse of powers proposed in the legislation”.
Further, as was noted during the debate, the Opposition believes it important to have the feedback of members of the criminal justice system, including the Law Association, Director of Public Prosecutions Office and the Criminal Bar.
“During the debate, the Attorney General indicated that he had failed to get feedback from any of these entities”. The Opposition Leader stated. “It would be important for our bi-partisan effort to reach out to these stakeholders and carefully consider any recommendations and/or concerns expressed”.
With regard to the Anti-Terrorism legislation, the Opposition Leader said Trinidad and Tobago must ensure that the strongest message is sent to former ISIS fighters and members that this country is not a safe haven for persons involved in international terrorism. “We must ensure that our borders are secure to prevent the entry of any persons seeking to find refuge in our country from where they can attack our citizens or the citizens of other countries,” Mrs. Persad-Bissessar said.
“We must play our part and discharge our responsibility to the international community in the international fight against terrorism, and this can only be achieved by legislating the strongest possible penalties for those involved in terrorism and terrorist activities,” the Opposition Leader stated. “We need to give law enforcement the power to identify, charge and prosecute anyone or any entity involved directly and indirectly in terrorist activity and those powers must extend to identifying and prosecuting those persons and entities involved in terrorist financing”.
The Opposition Leader expressed the hope that the Government would see the wisdom in the Opposition’s proposal and agree to meet in the shortest possible time.
“As a country we must put the safety, security and protection of our people first,” she stated. “It is our paramount responsibility to them and we must do all in our power to discharge that responsibility.”
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