JENSEN LA VENDE
After a two-year battle between the Government and the Opposition to agree on the Anti-Gang Bill 2018, it was passed in the House of Representatives in a unanimous decision with the 37 members present all voting for the bill to become law.
Speaking in Parliament just after 6 pm yesterday, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, in piloting the bill for the third time since assuming office in 2015 said the amendments to the bill included the sunset clause which would see the bill being reviewed after a 30-month period after it became law. He said the concerns of raised by the Opposition about senior police officers having the power to continue detaining alleged gang members beyond 72 hours was considered by the Government and later removed. That power will now be placed in the hands of High Court judges who must be petitioned before any alleged gang member is detained without charge beyond the three day period.
The new bill is a copy of the failed Anti-Gang Act of 2011 with amendments which included pieces of legislation copied from Jamaica. Al-Rawi said currently there are 33 active matters before the magistrates court regarding to the 2011 law and 45 matters before the High Court. Despite those bonafide cases, he said there were still claims before the courts of wrongful arrests hinged on the 2011 law.
In response, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she was elated to have been part of the process to get the bill to the Parliament. She added that she was setting aside pride and putting the country and the safety of the people first after reading newspaper reports of escalating murder rates among claims that some of the murders should be blamed on them for twice denying the passage of the bill.
In his address Al-Rawi said he wrote to the Judiciary, the offices of the Commissioner of Police, Director of Public Prosecutions and the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago and he never received a response except from the police who welcomed the bill as it would assist them in their crime fighting. In response Persad-Bissessar said that was “tragic” and suggested that in future, where such advice was being sought, the Attorney General could use a joint select committee which would compel the aforementioned institutions to respond.
In wrapping up the debate Al-Rawi said it was the voices of the population who pressured the Opposition into seeking bi-partisan agreement with the Government as they had “blood on their hand and political egg on their face.” He said all the requests that were made by the Persad-Bissessar-led Opposition were adhered to and their willingness to vote for the bill now, with the amendments made, was not a gift to the Government but to the nation.