November 30, 2020

The Editor speaks: More erosion of our rights

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In a previous editorial I outlined my concerns regarding the additional powers the RCIPS had asked for. My concerns were justified and unheeded by our lawmakers as last week amendments to the Penal Code were presented.

Amazingly, only leader of the opposition Hon. Alden McLaughlin rose to speak on the bill. Not all the laws are bad but along with those are the additional unnecessary ones that give almost unlimited powers to the police on matters that have never been any concern. Have we really had problems here with ‘unlawful assembly’, riots and affray’ and the need to ‘disperse groups of people in certain areas’?

Mr. McLaughlin voiced my fears when he said the dispersal orders raised concerns about the erosion of civil liberties.

“There is growing concern locally about many of these measures that are being taken because of the seriousness of crime in the jurisdiction and because, quite frankly, of the low level of convictions. All of us want the bad guys to get their just due, but there has to be a certain balance struck as it relates to civil liberties,” he said.

The Cayman Islands Attorney General, Sam Bulgin, said, “Dispersal powers of police were necessary to counter anti-social behaviour by groups who caused problems for law-abiding citizens. Rather than let such behaviour escalate, the amended law was a proactive attempt to address the problem.”

I would like to know all the instances of this “anti-social behavior by groups” who have caused “problems for law-abiding citizens”? In the thirty years I have lived here I have never known it to be a problem and the publisher of iNews Cayman, Joan (Watler) Wilson, native of Cayman has never known it to be a problem either and she is the daughter of an ex-Caymanian Chief of Police! I don’t think Mr. Bulgin has the same qualifications!

And why the necessity to increase the maximum penalty for being drunk and disorderly to a prison sentence to ONE YEAR and a fine of $1,000? Hopefully our judges will be more lenient and flexible when they sentence these persons so charged. Once again Mr. McLaughlin was concerned and asked whether songs sung out loud “after dark whilst walking home from a bar really warrants a sentence of one year imprisonment?” This has never been a huge problem.

The amended law deeming anyone to be a “rogue and a vagabond” if found by night without any lawful excuse on a closed commercial premises and could face up to three years in prison for a first offence and four years for a subsequent offence, is another one dealing with a problem here that hardly exists.

I think we can all agree with anyone convicted of being a member of a gang liable to a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail and a $500,000 fine, and redefining the term gang as “any group, association or other body consisting of three or more persons, whether formally or informally organised, having as one of its primary activities the commission of a serious offence; and any or all of the members of which engage in or have, within the preceding three years, engaged in the commission of a series of serious offences”.

The Penal Code (Amendment) Bill 2011 now creates offences of “causing fear, or provocation of violence”, “harassment”, and “threat to kill” and increases the penalty for “idle and disorderly persons” to a fine of $2,000 and four years in prison. Another timely and much needed change.

Most of us will only be interested and pleased if they lead to more convictions of the crimes here. That is the
main problem.

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