Govt, Opposition agree on new crime measures
By ANDRE BAGOO Friday, August 23 2013
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Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley are both smiles at yesterday's crime talks at the Prime Minister's Office ...
PRIME Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday declared the State at war with criminals as she announced more than a dozen new initiatives for which consensus had been reached in principle in talks with the Opposition, including the possible resumption of hanging and a proposal for trial without jury for gun and drug offences.
The Prime Minister briefed the nation after more than two hours of talks with Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, held at a third-floor conference room of the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair. She said a further meeting is due to take place next Thursday — two days before the Independence Day commemoration — and raised the possibility of an emergency sitting of Parliament prior to Budget Day, scheduled for September 9.
On the tone and tenor of yesterday’s talks, the Prime Minister invoked the memory of Britain’s war-time prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill, who famously issued a call for bipartisan collaboration on the eve of World War II.
“He said we must fight this war on a united front,” the Prime Minister said. “I am committed to working with the Opposition to fight what I see as a war.”
Persad-Bissessar further stated, “No political party, no individual government can solve crime alone. This is neither a party nor a political issue. The fight against crime should be something that unites us, not divides us. It will take the collective efforts of the Government, all other political groups, the protective services, NGOs, businesses and citizens. Crime is everybody’s business and we cannot end it if we put partisan interests ahead of the good of our country.”
Speaking with reporters after the briefing, Rowley said “we are all in this together.”
The Prime Minister said the purpose of next Thursday’s third meeting with the Opposition would be to “flesh out” areas for which the Opposition has indicated it is open to hold discussion on, meaning there is consensus in principle.
These include discussion on “capital offences and anti-gun offences.” Persad-Bissessar said the Opposition has indicated in the talks that they are “open for discussion” on the resumption of hanging.
The Prime Minister noted, “A parliamentary standing committee on crime suppression and security was discussed. However I will seek further advice on this matter.”
Of a proposal to introduce a “one-strike and you are out” system in relation to the granting of bail, the Prime Minister said, “On the Bail Act, we will consider denying bail if you are a convicted criminal. That is, after conviction on a first offence, when you are charged a second time, you will be denied bail.” She said the talks would consider “partial abolition of jury trial for gun or drug offence.”
Another area of exploration will be reform of anti-gang legislation.
“I do believe that we have agreed to review that legislation based on what we are seeing happening under that Act,” Persad- Bissessar said. She noted this would be done in consultation with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Police Commissioner.
Yesterday’s talks saw the Prime Minister and a team of ministers meet with Rowley and several Opposition/PNM officials. At the meeting were: Minister of Legal Affairs Prakash Ramadhar; Attorney General Anand Ramlogan; acting Minister of National Security Clifton De Coteau, and Minister of Justice Christlyn Moore.
Also at the meeting were: Port-of-Spain South MP Marlene McDonald; PNM Senator Terrence Deyalsingh; PNM vice- chairman Camille Robinson-Regis (an attorney); and PNM Senator Fitzgerald Hinds. The meeting began at about 3.30 pm and ended at 5.50 pm. At a photo-opportunity at around 4 pm, both sides appeared jovial.
Of Rowley, the Prime Minister expressed “deep appreciation” for “the willingness he has shown in working with our government to deal with crime.” Speaking with reporters outside of the Office of the Prime Minister, Rowley welcomed the agreement reached by the Government and the Opposition.
“Let’s look at security, opportunity and crime fighting, crime suppression, national security from a national perspective,” he said. “Where we all accept that we are all in this together and the solutions are not just for East Port-of-Spain.”
Rowley said a bipartisan approach to fighting crime in TT was very important because “if we only respond to crime in a partisan way, in the political arena, then the criminals laugh at us.”