Instances of police abuse of power may increase in the near future, if Government fails to clarify its policy soon, on the extent of police powers in the current crisis situation.
Defence attorney Fareed Ali has expressed concern over what he says appears to be a growing corollary between utterances from the Government and statements being made by the Commissioner of Police (CoP).
And according to Fareed Ali, the media appears to be accommodating the government and police actions.
“It is noteworthy that the media is not questioning the Government or its policy at this time,” he says in a statement issued today. “It engenders the belief that they are being guided by the State rather than the state of affairs. The CoP tone has changed voluminously,” he added.
He observes that at one point the Commissioner of Police was saying that the law doesn’t allow him to arrest persons, given that T&T has not been declared to be under a State of Emergency. But things have changed.
“The CoP is now saying that he is going to make life ‘uncomfortable’ for those abusing the Stay at Home orders. That is tantamount to a threat,” he explains. “The CoP, it appears, is embarking on a course of action that amounts to ultra-surveillance. The law does not allow for this course of action. The constitutional provisions say that all citizens are to be equally treated within the law,” Ali states.
The attorney points out that the current state of the country’s judicial process doesn’t inspire confidence in the public that the court—as a layer of protection—is available to the common man on the street, because access to a lawyer and the courts is stymied or limited by the current state of affairs.
“The public confidence in its access to justice may be at its lowest at this juncture. The comments of the CoP is cause for concern. He’s saying that he’s going to make life uncomfortable for persons out there carries tones of potential abuse. That, in law, is wrong, ” Ali said.
“The law is there to maintain order. Those acting outside of the law must be treated with only by due process of the law as the Constitution allows. For the CoP to say that he is going to make life uncomfortable for citizens carries overtones and undertones of law enforcement abusing its power by threatening an offensive against the public,” he added.
According to Ali, this is evidenced by the random stop-and-search actions of vehicles by police on the road for credentials or proof as to the reasons they are there.
“What makes it abusive is the random approach based on the course of action police have been adopting currently. It appears that persons commuting particular routes are the police targets,” he says.
He adds: “The irony is Minister Deyalsingh is concomitantly saying that the public is coming out when they ought not to be. The marriage of the comment of the CoP and the Minister seems to simmer with the undertone that there is executive input in the path that the CoP has now adopted.”
“The inference drawn is a natural corollary of the current state of affairs,” the defence lawyer argues. “The citizens of this country must be mindful that only within a state of emergency can the CoP so act. Constitutionally, our rights and freedoms ought to be self-regulated, given there is no state of emergency. The CoP’s actions hints an ultra-offensive approach when there is no basis for it in law. The indicators are that police abuses may about to become worse,” he added.