Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has dismissed accusations that his administration was moving to make Barbados a “police state” and called on those opposed to the recent passage of the Police Act to test the legislation in the courts.
Stuart speaking at a political meeting of his ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) on Sunday night, said those opposed to the measure were only trying to cause alarm on the island and urged them to take the matter to the courts.
“That is what courts do,” he said, noting that it was not enough for anyone to be “walking around the place pronouncing on the constitutionality of any piece of legislation.
“If you feel that the piece of legislation needs to be tested for constitutionality go to court and ask the courts to pronounce on it. But trying to start an alarm in the society and to give the impression that the governments wants to create a police state is really not the best example of civic virtue,” he told supporters.
Social activist and attorney-at-law David Comissiong has been leading the opposition to the newly amended Police Act, saying he would most likely challenge the issue in the courts.
In a statement, entitled, A Citizen’s Response to the Newly Amended Police Act, Comissiong said ‘it is highly unlikely that this new piece of legislation will pass the test of constitutionality once it is challenged in the Supreme Court of Barbados”.
He said the Stuart government had two years ago enacted the Immigration (Biometrics) Regulations that stipulated that every Barbadian travelling from or returning to his or her own country had to be fingerprinted, and that Barbadians could actually be prevented from re-entering their own country if they refused to be fingerprinted.
“These regulations — it should be recalled — were found to be unconstitutional and were struck down by the Supreme Court of Barbados. How tragic it is that the callous and stiff-necked Freundel Stuart administration has seemingly learnt nothing from that most shameful episode in the history of the Parliament of Barbados.”
Comissiong, the founder of the Clement Payne Movement (CPM), said that under the Police Act, the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General will have the power not only to determine which areas of Barbados will be placed under curfew, but also to determine the curfew hours, he explained.
“These two office holders will therefore have the power to imprison thousands of Barbadians in their homes for up to 48 hours, or to prohibit thousands of Barbadians from returning to and accessing their homes over a 48-hour period.
“In addition, the police will have the power to cordon off areas of Barbados for eight hours at a time, and to oblige any person who happens to be within the cordoned area to answer questions put to them by the police. And so, the citizen’s right to choose to remain silent is thrown out of the window,” he said.
But Prime Minister Stuart said that some communities had been under curfew for years as a result of the activities of the criminals in the areas.
“That criminal element with firearms have been keeping people off the streets at nights and beyond a certain time of day. Do we prefer them to do it, protecting their own criminal enterprise or do we want it done by the Royal Barbados Police Force lawfully in accordance with the law for the protection of all of us?
“That’s the choice. If you prefer curfews done by the criminal gun totting element that’s a choice you can make,” Stuart told the DLP meeting.