Young sides with CoP: Some firearm offenders get off too easy

Thursday, August 8, 2019 - 08:15

De­bate on the Firearms (Amend­ment) Bill will be com­plet­ed when Par­lia­ment re­sumes in Sep­tem­ber and it will ad­dress part of Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er Gary Grif­fith’s con­cerns about the need for stiffer penal­ties for firearms of­fences, says Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Min­is­ter Stu­art Young.

But Young al­so says Grif­fith was right that ju­di­cial of­fi­cers need­ed to sen­tence with a de­gree of con­for­mi­ty.


At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Faris Al-Rawi al­so said on Wednes­day, Grif­fith’s con­cerns about firearms of­fences have pro­vid­ed re­al ex­am­ples of the ra­tio­nale which Al-Rawi him­self had used in pi­lot­ing the Firearms Bill re­cent­ly.

Grif­fith on Tues­day called for the Ju­di­cia­ry to “play its role” in the an­ti-crime fight, adding that sen­tences im­posed by mag­is­trates for firearm of­fences were too le­nient. Cur­rent­ly, he not­ed a firearm of­fend­er can be out of prison in just over a year and back on the street.

The Firearms (Amend­ment) Bill was passed (with some changes) in the Sen­ate in Ju­ly. Young had ap­pealed to In­de­pen­dent and Op­po­si­tion sen­a­tors to send a strong mes­sage via the Bill to show T&T’s “push­back” against il­le­gal guns.

The Bill par­tic­u­lar­ly tar­gets re­peat of­fend­ers. Sev­er­al claus­es car­ry a penal­ty of im­pris­on­ment for the re­main­der of a cul­prit’s nat­ur­al life par­tic­u­lar­ly for those fac­ing a third con­vic­tion.

It will be pre­sent­ed in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives when Par­lia­ment re­sumes in Sep­tem­ber af­ter the cur­rent re­cess. It can be passed by a sim­ple ma­jor­i­ty vote with­out Op­po­si­tion sup­port.

Young said, “The Bill is Gov­ern­ment’s con­tin­ued sup­port for the T&T Po­lice Ser­vice in the fight against crim­i­nal­i­ty and in par­tic­u­lar, tack­ling il­le­gal firearms.

I per­son­al­ly be­lieve it’s a crit­i­cal tool in deal­ing with re­peat il­le­gal firearm of­fend­ers and shoot­ers. It al­so makes traf­fick­ing of firearms an ex­press statu­to­ry of­fence for the first time.”

“This leg­is­la­tion ad­dress­es part of what the Com­mis­sion­er has asked for help with. But he’s right that ju­di­cial of­fi­cers need to sen­tence with a de­gree of con­for­mi­ty.

There are ex­am­ples of known firearms of­fend­ers be­ing giv­en low fines and sen­tences. But any­one con­vict­ed with pos­ses­sion of an il­le­gal firearm should be tak­en off the streets and in­car­cer­at­ed.”

Al-Rawi who said the Firearms (Amend­ment) Bill can deal with Grif­fith’s con­cerns added, “The Com­mis­sion­er has cor­rect­ly iden­ti­fied a se­ri­ous is­sue that must be treat­ed by a com­bi­na­tion of the Par­lia­ment’s work and the Ju­di­cia­ry’s ap­pli­ca­tion of the laws.”

“The Ju­di­cia­ry is bound by ju­di­cial sen­tenc­ing guide­lines. These pro­vide if you’re treat­ing with mat­ter sum­mar­i­ly, there’s a dis­count on sen­tenc­ing up to one-third of the time. Sec­ond­ly, if you plead guilty, there’s fur­ther one-third dis­count. Third­ly, if you spend time in in­car­cer­a­tion, a por­tion of that can be dis­count­ed from a sen­tence.”

“So if you get an eight-year sen­tence and it’s done sum­mar­i­ly, it can end up be­ing on­ly 18 months to two years - I made that point in the de­bate on the Firearms Bill. The Op­po­si­tion didn’t sup­port the bill (in Sen­ate) but we’re go­ing to the House with it as Par­lia­ment re­opens.”

Al-Rawi said for best ef­fect, the Firearms Bill should work in tan­dem with the Bail (Amend­ment) Bill. The lat­ter was pro­claimed as law on Mon­day. That Bill pro­hibits bail for 120 days for peo­ple who al­ready have charges and con­vic­tions on of­fences un­der cer­tain laws. This in­cludes the Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons and Firearms Acts.

On whether the UNC would sup­port the Firearms Bill when it reach­es the Low­er House, UNC MP Su­ruj Ram­bachan said, “The Com­mis­sion­er has been re­ceiv­ing the sup­port he re­quires from the Op­po­si­tion. We’ll ex­am­ine the bill when it comes and do what­ev­er we need to with­in the con­text of law and peo­ple’s rights. You can’t just sup­port some­thing with­out ex­am­in­ing it in that con­text. We know some­thing has to be done about crime.”

“But let’s hope that hav­ing equipped the po­lice with the Bail Act, they’ll move ex­pe­di­tious­ly to bring com­fort to peo­ple. Home in­va­sions and shoot­ings con­tin­ue. You’re deal­ing with a dif­fer­ent type of crim­i­nal who’s to­tal­ly dis­re­spect­ful to laws and a lot of this con­cerns the per­cep­tion about the ju­di­cia­ry and the po­lice. Grif­fith’s mak­ing a good ef­fort to pu­ri­fy the TTPS but it’ll take him 12-24 more months to get things go­ing as he met a rot­ten sit­u­a­tion.”

Reporter: Gail Alexander