Last update: 12-Dec-2013 4:50 am
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Lawyers differ on cops’ action
There is no law in T&T that says people can only wear masks at Carnival time. Former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, said so yesterday when asked to comment on the detention of Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) leader Ancel Roget outside of the Hall of Justice on Wednesday. He was arrested and detained for less than an hour before being released by police.
Roget and other activists, according to police, wore black clothing and covered their faces with handkerchiefs, leading police to see the group as a threat. In an interview yesterday, Maharaj said while the Summary Offences Act said if you had to have a march or public meeting, police permission was needed, Roget’s action could not have been described as either of those things.
He added: “What they were doing were protesting and there is no law in T&T prohibiting individuals from protesting. “There is a distinction between a protest and a march. The Constitution grants freedom of expression and for the police to say permission was needed in order to have a protest is trying to change the law without Parliament.”
Maharaj said it was not unlawful for individuals to cover their faces and gave an example of members of the Muslim population, who covered their faces but were not arrested. “There is nothing to say you can only put on a mask at Carnival time,” he added. Maharaj also commented on the reason given by Deputy Commissioner of Police Mervyn Richardson, who told reporters he thought the scene was “another coup.” “It is a national joke. There could be no reasonable basis to make that sort of statement,” he said.
Maharaj said Roget’s detention was unlawful. However, Dana Seetahal, SC, disagreed. In an interview, she said if the protesters were indeed wearing a mask or something akin to a disguise then the Summary Offences Act permitted police to arrest someone found to be committing an offence. Seetahal also felt it was necessary to apply to police in advance of holding a march or a public meeting in a democratic society. “As a society we need to be productive and police would be needed to divert traffic in some cases and for safety reasons,” said Seetahal, noting some marches are held in the middle of the day. “You also have to look at security for the marchers themselves. Their might be people who disagree with whatever cause people may be marching for,” she added.
Summary Offences Act
109. (1) A person who desires to hold or call together any public meeting shall, at least 48 hours but no more than 14 days before the day on which it is proposed to hold such meeting, notify the Commissioner of Police.
(7) Any person who—
(a) holds any public meeting without notifying the Commissioner of Police;
(b) calls together or holds a public meeting that has been prohibited...
is liable to a fine of $10,000 or to imprisonment for two years.
110. (1) No public meeting may be conducted in such a manner so as to result in a public march that is not permitted by the Commissioner of Police under section 114 and if a public meeting is conducted in such a manner that such a public march takes place at such a public meeting, the holder of such public meeting is guilty of an offence.
(2) Any person guilty of an offence under sub-section (1) is liable to a fine of $4,000 and to imprisonment for 18 months.
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