Independent Senator Carol Lady Haynes today expressed concern about a series of measures outlined in the Police (Amendment) Bill, as she joined fellow independent and Opposition senators in calling for its withdrawal pending public consultations.
The Bill, which has already passed the Lower House, increases the statutory powers of the Attorney General, the Commissioner of Police and the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF), and has sparked fears among some members of the public and the legal fraternity about possible abuse of power.
The amended legislation seeks, among other things, to give expanded powers to the police to impose cordons and curfews and to curtail the movement and right to freedom of association of people, to stop and search individuals and vehicles and to enter homes within the cordon, all without a search warrant.
In her contribution to the debate today, Lady Haynes made reference to recommendations of the 1998 Constitution Review Commission that the state must respect the principles, rights and freedoms in the Constitution, adding: “I therefore can’t support the amendment to this bill.”
Among the most worrying aspects of the amended law, the medical doctor said, was the provision which allows for searches of homes and premises without a warrant on the basis of reasonable suspicion.
“’I find that is of great concern to me,” she said.
However, she also described as worrying, some of the proposal that could result in steep fines or imprisonment, including one that addresses the use of abusive or insulting language to a police officer on duty.
“I am the first one to be horrified with the use of abusive language, or cussing . . . .However to say in this situation if someone uses abusive language that they can be subject to a fine of $5,000 or imprisonment for a term of two years, or both, I find that really worries me.”
The same offences attract a $10,000 fine, three years imprisonment, or both, if they are committed during a curfew or special investigation period.
“I would like to add my voice to those colleague senators who have asked that we withdraw this bill at this point for further consideration and for wider consultation in the community,” Lady Haynes said in reference to senators Alvin Adams, John Watson, Sir Henry Fraser, Sir Roy Trotman, and Wilfred Abrahams.
The Barbados Bar Association has expressed “deep” concern about the proposed legislation in its present form, saying in a statement yesterday that “this proposed amendment appears unnecessary and there has been no substantial reason tendered or explanation given why the enactment of such drastic measures is necessary at this time”.
“This amendment should be subject to wide consultation,” the statement signed by Bar President Liesel Weekes said, while raising questions about the need to bypass the requirement of a two-thirds majority of both Houses of Parliament to declare a state of emergency, in favour of giving an absolute discretion to the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General.
“The two-thirds majority of both Houses of Parliament is the same majority required to amend or change the Constitution of Barbados. This is a critical point to appreciate because the operation of these powers effectively suspends the constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms of individuals within the cordon,” the legal body warned.
The fringe political party, Solutions Barbados, also expressed concern about the measure, describing it as a dangerous piece of legislation, and pledging to repeal the law if it forms the next Government.