Trinidad:Law not working

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Griffith knocks bail legislation

POLICE Commissioner Gary Griffith says the recently passed Bail (Amendment) Act was “still ineffective in its current form.”

Griffith’s comments were contained in a media release from the police which made mention to the granting of bail to a man who was recently charged for possession of “fully automatic weapons of war,” together with magazines.

He acknowledged that the legislation was made with the best intentions, but was of the opinion that the previous Bail Act, which was in effect five years ago, “was a more effective piece of legislation in the fight against crime.”

In his criticism of the legislation and the implementation of it, Griffith said the criminal justice system appears to be “flawed” and “favouring criminal elements.” He made an appeal to judicial officers, which include magistrates and judges, to “reconsider” granting minimal bail amounts for firearm offences.

He also said he was “curious” about the message judicial officers were sending to the nation “when persons are alleged to have been found with a cache of guns which can kill hundreds of people in the blink of an eye and can so easily access bail to perpetrate similar offences on law-abiding citizens.”

The commissioner said amendments similar to what was contained in the previous act, which passed while he was National Security Minister under the People’s Partnership government, would have negated such a “lenient and delicate judicial approach.”

The Bail (Amendment) Act went into full force in August after it was proclaimed law by President Paula-Mae Weekes.

On Wednesday, a 19-year-old Belmont plumber was granted $500,000 bail on charges of being in possession of eight assault rifles. Prosecutors had objected to bail, claiming the teenager fell under the Bail (Amendment) Act 2019, which denies bail for 120 days to repeat offenders charged with firearm possession.

However, the man’s attorney argued he did not fall under the schedule of offences covered by the recently-passed legislation and bail was granted.

In his plea, Griffith said, “several assault rifles in the hands of criminal elements, may result in the death of hundreds of people in seconds.”

Yet, the statement added, when people were apprehended for possession of these types of weapons, present criminal justice system “appears flawed and, at times, favouring the criminal elements, rather than the potential victim.”

“When granted bail, these offenders can very well access another illegal firearm to continue attacking the State, and law-abiding citizens.

“This is with one weapon, far more someone who may have been held for possession of nine (9) assault rifles.”

He also added that the TTPS was in a “virtual war” because of the types of weapons “the enemies of the State carry.”

“But when they shoot at us and we return fire to defend ourselves, we are interrogated and at times condemned.

“Likewise, when we capture them, whilst holding them with the type of weapons that can kill dozens of innocent citizens in seconds; orders are then given in 24 hours for them to be released, thus allowing the enemy of the state to return to the killing fields, to acquire another firearm. This is certainly not a level playing field, and at times we are left to wonder why the controllable odds are being stacked against not only the police but so too the law-abiding citizens.”

The commissioner said the previous Bail Act, prior to its sunset clause, worked, as an accused would be held without bail was stymied from being allowed the opportunity to acquire additional weaponry and their potential to retaliate was effectively blocked.

“As a result of the recent Parliamentary adjustment to this clause, persons held with illegal firearms, whether, one, or nine, handheld or semi-automatic, are afforded access to bail once they did not have a previous conviction,” Griffith said.

He added that, “At some point, the gloves must come off, in apprehending persons, is it that we must now hope that they would have had a previous conviction for an illegal activity such as being in possession of numerous illegal automatic weapons before we keep such elements off the street?

“Why would someone have such an arsenal in their possession illegally? How are the officers of the TTPS to function effectively when they believe they are operating with a revolving door that seems to benefit the perpetrator?

One automatic weapon has the potential to remove dozens of lives in an instant, what about nine? Why do we have to wait for someone to actively engage and cause havoc before decisive action is taken?” he asked.

He said certain offences needed to be weighed differently from those involving illegal weapons that can be used with an intent to kill.

Griffith acknowledged that while it was a person’s constitutional right to bail, the Bail Act contemplated the seriousness of the offence.

Speaking during the debate of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill earlier this month, National Security Minister Stuart Young said he was upset over the lenient fines being imposed by magistrates for illegal guns and drugs.

He said police officers were putting their lives on the line every day to go after the criminal elements.

“If you do that, colleagues, we cannot call upon the law enforcement officers out there who are putting their lives at risk morning, noon and night to go and fight the criminal element. That is the signal that the judiciary is sending,” he said.

Young said he doesn’t ‘buy’ this thing about sentencing guidelines because at the end of the day there is a discretion.

“Unless the judiciary joins with us in fighting crime, we are going to get nowhere,” he said.

He disclosed that from January 1 to September 6, 2019, police seized a total of 557 illegal firearms and 7,309 rounds of ammunition.

Last year, he said, at this time, some 12,776 illegal rounds of ammunition were seized.

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