Barbadians who are concerned about the newly approved Police (Amendment) Act are being encouraged to challenge it in a court of law.
This admonition from Prime Minister Freundel Stuart last night during an address to Democratic Labour Party (DLP) faithful at a joint meeting of St Michael branches at the Eden Lodge Primary School.
Stuart charged that some people were seeking to stir public alarm instead of going through the only institution capable of ruling on the constitutionality of the legislation.
“Every legislation we have tried to pass has been accused of being unconstitutional. None of that unnerves me because I have heard all of this already. First of all the only institution in Barbados or in any other part of the western world that can determine if a piece of legislation is unconstitutional is a court. No individual could stand up and declare that a piece of legislation is unconstitutional,” Stuart said.
The contentious legislation, which was approved by the Senate last week, has sparked fears among some Barbadians, including the Bar Association and social activist David Comissiong, that lawmen would abuse the powers that they have been given under the measure, particularly against residents of the more deprived communities.
Comissiong has already hinted at the possibility of challenging the legislation in court.
However, Stuart warned that history and precedent were on Government’s side as it relates to such a challenge.
“I heard all of this talk in 1974 when Errol Barrow amended the constitution itself. I heard this talk when the Public Order Act was amended in 1970. You know, after all of those criticisms, when those critics got into office, the pieces of legislation remained untouched, They were just indulging in political posturing as is happening now. Police always had the right to stop and search at common law and various pieces of legislation. Police cordons are normally because you don’t want crime scenes tampered with and you want evidence preserved,” the Prime Minister stressed.
Stuart further argued that certain criminal elements were currently implementing curfews in their communities, and questioned whether critics of the amended legislation preferred gun-toting criminals to wield such power, instead of the police.
“Whether the critics know it or not Barbadians were under curfew longer than we would like to admit. But not curfew by the police but by the criminal elements with firearms, who have been keeping people off the streets at night. Do we prefer them to do it protecting their own criminal enterprise, or do we want it done by the Royal Barbados Police Force lawfully for the protection of all of us? That is the choice,” Stuart stressed.