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.”