Social activist and attorney-at-law David Comissiong is hinting at a legal challenge to the newly amended Police Act.
In a press release issued this afternoon entitled, A Citizen’s Response to the Newly Amended Police Act, Comissiong did not expressly state that he would sue the “callous and stiff-necked” Freundel Stuart administration over the measure, which gives police, particularly the Commissioner of Police, extensive powers to impose curfews and curb Barbadians’ constitutional rights. However, there was no doubt where he stood on its constitutionality.
“It is highly unlikely that this new piece of legislation will pass the test of constitutionality once it is challenged in the Supreme Court of Barbados,” the attorney said in the release.
Comissiong has been there before, having successfully challenged the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration in 2016 over its plans to introduce fingerprinting at all ports of entry, including for Barbadian nationals entering and leaving the country.
He made reference to that case today, stating that the Stuart administration did not learn any lessons from that issue.
Hence, he said, the DLP legislators in both the Upper Chamber and the Lower House did not appear to be bothered by the prospect of losing yet another case.
“These–after all — are the same legislators who, less than two years ago, enacted the Immigration (Biometrics) Regulations that stipulated that every Barbadian travelling from or returning to his or her own country had to be fingerprinted, and that Barbadians could actually be prevented from re-entering their own country if they refused to be fingerprinted,” he wrote.
“These regulations — it should be recalled — were found to be unconstitutional and were struck down by the Supreme Court of Barbados. How tragic it is that the callous and stiff-necked Freundel Stuart administration has seemingly learnt nothing from that most shameful episode in the history of the Parliament of Barbados,” he added.
During debate on the measure in the Senate, “eminent and well respected Barbadian patriots” such as Sir Roy Trotman, Sir Henry Fraser, Lady Carol Haynes, John Watson, and Sir Trevor Carmichael, as well as Opposition Barbados Labour Party senator Wilfred Abrahams, pleaded with the Government side to withdraw the measure to allow for national consultations.
However, Comissiong noted, the 12 Government Senators “have simply ignored all pleas for a process of popular consultation”, and voted to enacted the Bill into law.
The vote came a day after Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler spoke in Parliament about illegal wiretapping between 2000 and 2009, by unnamed persons, but widely believed to be then Commissioner of Police Darwin Dottin.
Comissiong said it was ironic that 24 hours after the minister had “made public pronouncements about a Commissioner of Police abusing his powers to carry out wiretapping of telephone conversations . . . the said administration is proposing to place even more extreme power into the hands of the Commissioner of Police to — in tandem with the Attorney General– impose curfews and cordons on the people and communities of Barbados”.
Under the newly amended Police Act, the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General will have the power not only to determine which areas of Barbados will be placed under curfew, but also to determine the curfew hours, he explained.
“These two office holders will therefore have the power to imprison thousands of Barbadians in their homes for up to 48 hours, or to prohibit thousands of Barbadians from returning to and accessing their homes over a 48-hour period.
“In addition, the police will have the power to cordon off areas of Barbados for eight hours at a time, and to oblige any person who happens to be within the cordoned area to answer questions put to them by the police. And so, the citizen’s right to choose to remain silent is thrown out of the window,” he complained.
The new law also gives police the right to search persons, motor vehicles and homes within the curfew area once a police officer “claims to have reasonable suspicion that the commission of any offence known to the law– no matter how minor or trivial that alleged offence might be — is intended to be committed.
“In effect, the police will to all intents and purposes have full liberty to search persons, vehicles and homes as they please,” the social activist said.
Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite earlier today dismissed concerns raised by Comissiong and other critics of the measure, including the Bar Association, saying the criticism was much ado about nothing.
“There is nothing new about this in terms of other parts of the region . . . and while I am Attorney General I will do it without fear of criticism and without the noise that I am hearing from certain quarters. So the David Comissiong’s etcetera, they don’t bother me for one bit,” Brathwaite told reporters this morning on the sidelines of the police conference at Solidarity House, Harmony Hall, St Michael.