Due diligence must be adhered to when charging people for offences under the Firearms Act, Queens Counsel Andrew Pilgrim, has said.
The outspoken lawyer’s comment came on the heels of Wednesday’s dismissal of a 2014 firearms charge against father and son Charles Mark Branch and Dario Jean-luc Holder Branch, both of 1st Avenue Godding Road, Station Hill, St Michael.
“We need to be consistent and scrupulous in how we treat these matters,” Pilgrim told Barbados TODAY, adding, “You can’t have people going to prison because we all know that possession of a firearm is automatic remand and then you have to apply to get bail through the High Court which is a difficult and onerous process.”
Magistrate Douglas Frederick had no choice but to dismiss the matter after the men’s attorney Sian Lange made him aware of a letter from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions which stated that tests conducted on the weapon revealed it was an airsoft pistol which did not have the capacity to “discharge a projectile at a muzzle velocity exceeding 152.4 mps”.
As such the DPP’s office asked that the case against the two be dismissed.
Pilgrim explained that the Act had a strict definition of a firearm and “sometimes when you look at it, it almost seems like anything that has a barrel and can project something out of it would be considered a firearm.
“Due diligence must be done up front, from the time you are examining it [the firearm]. As a firearms examiner you know this is borderline, this is not a Glock Nine, this is something with air propulsion of pellets, therefore we are going to examine this carefully.”
The Queen’s Counsel maintained that “prompt and accurate” examination of the “firearm” must be done to determine whether it qualifies as such.
“How can you let someone slip through that huge crack and [let them] go and sit in prison for nine months . . . or 12 months or more?” Pilgrim asked, adding that it was better to be in police custody for three or four days while test are being conducted than to spend nine months in prison.
“Discharge the person, warn them about carrying it in a public place, do whatever that you have to do but do not let that person slip into a system that is so draconian about firearms. Don’t tell me we go charge you and find out nine months later whether it is a firearm or not,” he said.
Pilgrim also took issue with recent comments made by Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite that Government was considering upgrading the Firearms Act.
“It’s impossible for a magistrate to grant you bail for a firearm. You are getting remanded straight to prison. Once you are charged the penalties are high already. What are we upgrading it for?” Pilgrim questioned.
Admitting that the current spate of gun crime was worrying to everyone in society, Pilgrim made it clear the law governing firearms was not the issue.
“Before we talk we have to think. The problem is with our trials and the rate at which people get tried . . . there is nothing wrong with the Act,” he maintained.
With over a dozen gun-related murders recorded for the year, Pilgrim put forward his take on how to address the situation.
“Are we considering giving children classes about anger management every week of their lives to make them understand that you deal with conflicts different from picking up a firearm or chopping somebody with a collins? We need to think about interventions we can do for the people who are vulnerable to committing these types of crimes and their families now,” he said.