On Wednesday, January 31, 2018, the Senate of Barbados gave consideration to a “Bill to amend the Police Act” that was laid in the House of Assembly by Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite.
The main component of this Bill is a proposal to give the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General the power — by themselves — to impose a two-day “curfew” on any geographical area within our country (or indeed across the entire island) if the Commissioner of Police considers that he “has received information or intelligence with regard to criminal activity in any area of Barbados, and it appears to him that due to the nature or extent of the criminal activity, that there are reasonable grounds to believe that in the interest of public safety, public order or for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime, it is necessary to do so”.
And once such a curfew is imposed, the Bill — if enacted into law — would give the police the right to :-
1. Command all persons within the curfew area to return to their homes or premises and remain indoors;
2. Command all businesses in the curfew area to close and remain closed;
3. Command all social gatherings in the curfew area to come to an end;
4. Search all premises (without any requirement to have a search warrant) once any police officer has reasonable suspicion that any offence (no matter how minor or trivial) has been committed or is about to be committed in the said premises;
5. Stop and search any person (without any requirement to have a search warrant) once any police officer has reasonable suspicion that any offence (no matter how minor or trivial) has been committed or is about to be about to be committed;
6. Stop and search any motor-vehicle (without any requirement to have a search warrant) once any police officer has reasonable suspicion that any offence (no matter how minor or trivial) has been committed or is about to be committed; and
7. Require any person within the curfew area to remain stationary and to refrain from carrying out any activity.
Furthermore, if the police set up a so-called “cordon” in any part of Barbados — either generally or under a curfew — they also have the power to oblige any person within the cordon area to answer questions put to them by the police, and to perform any actions that the police believe are reasonably required in order to preserve the peace or to prevent any contravention of the law.
The Bill therefore proposes to give the police powers over the Barbadian citizen’s constitutionally guaranteed rights to liberty, security of the person, and protection of the privacy of his home and other property, that are way in excess of the powers that the police currently generally possess!
Under our current constitutional arrangements, the only way that the police can acquire the powers that this Bill proposes to give them is if “a period of public emergency” is declared under Section 25 of the Barbados Constitution.
In a similar vein to this Bill, Section 25 (2) (b) of the Constitution provides that one of the grounds on which a “period of public emergency” may be declared is if “action has been taken by any person of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be likely to endanger the public safety….”
However, the big difference between the declaration of a “period of public emergency” under Section 25 of the Constitution and the declaration of a curfew under this Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Bill is that in the former case (under the Constitution), the special regime can only be established by way of a vote in both the House of Assembly and the Senate of two thirds of the members of these two houses of Parliament, or by way of a proclamation of the Governor General, to be followed by orders made by the entire Cabinet of Barbados — orders that then have to be laid before Parliament, while in the latter case (under the DLP Bill), the decision is totally left to the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police, with no need for parliamentary approval.
I can’t speak for the rest of my fellow Barbadians, but certainly I, as a citizen of Barbados, do not feel comfortable with such power being placed in the hands of the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police!
As far as I am concerned, if such sweeping powers are to be given to the police they should only be given in circumstances where the elected political representatives of the people — meeting in a session of the House of Assembly — give due consideration to the reasons being put forward for the imposition of a curfew and the granting of draconian police powers, and signify their approval by a majority vote.
I would also like my fellow Barbadian citizens to know that this is not the only outrageous proposal contained in this DLP Bill!
Just to give one other example:- This Bill is proposing that anyone found guilty of using “abusive or insulting language” to a police officer who is carrying out duties during the course of implementing a so-called “cordon”in any part of Barbados, or during the course of a curfew, is liable “on conviction by a court of summary jurisdiction to a fine of $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term of three years or to both, but if the magistrate is of the opinion that the matter is a fit subject for a prosecution by indictment, he shall commit the offender to stand trial at the High Court sitting for the trial of criminal offences.” (Please see Section 5 of the Bill)
If this is not evidence of a burgeoning police state then I don’t know what is.
It is truly scandalous that the Parliament of Barbados is on the verge of enacting into law such a draconian Bill that subverts so many of the freedoms and rights of the Barbadian people with little or no public discussion!
I hereby call upon and encourage the seven independent senators of Barbados to take upon themselves the role of “tribunes” of the Barbadian people — to be the voice and conscience of the Barbadian people in the Senate debate, and to insist that this Bill not be passed, and that it be put through a process of public scrutiny and discussion, and ultimately, of amendment.