Pettingill: Firearms Act “Terrorism Legislation”

June 4, 2010

963038_prisonIn today’s debate in the House of Assembly Mark Pettingill of the Bermuda Democratic Alliance called an aspect of the Firearms and Bail Act “terrorism legislation”, saying that although he is in full support of taking action against the rising crime we face, the Act as it stands will not accomplish this.

He spoke extensively to the proposed amendment which would allow firearm suspects to be held for 28 days without charge, and explained it could push up to 31 days counting in the 72 initial holding period presently allowed. Mr Pettingill, a veteran defense lawyer, said that holding suspects for that long would allow defense lawyers to use that fact in their favour while defending their client.

Mr Pettingill explained that should an individual confess days into his detention, that fact could be legally used to get the confession waived.

Saying that “any criminal attorney worth his salt” could “play the constitution card” as it relates to unlawful detention, Mr Pettingill said that lawyers will “cane” the prosecution and use the defence that the Police held the individual for too long. He said the law is so “obviously challengable in a court of law” that defendants will be let go, and that in a way the “bad guys will win”.

He expressed grave concern, calling it “frightening” that the amendment would allow for people to be held for 14 – 31 days simply to question them. Mr Pettingill said it could open up issues; saying “someone calls up and says so and so has a gun”, the Police could then “nick” him and hold him for weeks.

Mr Pettingill said the law is entirely without precedent in the Commonwealth and English speaking world, and that the Americans held people without charge in Guantanamo Bay as “they wouldn’t have done it on their home soil”. He also stated that “This is what happened in apartheid era South Africa – detention without charge”.

He said he greatly supports the concept of doing more to address our rising crime, but we must focus on effective options.

You can read summaries of other MPs thoughts on the Firearm and Bail Act as it happens on our live blogging coverage here.

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  1. Live Blogging: June 4 House Of Assembly | | June 4, 2010
  1. Better Idea says:

    Mr. Pettingill seems to make a valid point, and given his experience as a defense attorney, I’d be tempted to believe that he is 100% correct. My concern however is that while he states what is wrong, he has not made any suggestions as to viable alternatives. All well and good to say what won’t work, but as a politician, he must take a position on what he thinks personally or on behalf of his party as to what should/could be done instead. Clearly doing nothing isn’t going to work.

  2. elBee says:

    I thought his point was extremely interesting — I had expected protest on the Human Rights “Can’t lock people up forever without charges” front, but not the “It will let criminals get off” point.

    Everyone is eager to have the bad guys locked up, no matter what laws we have to pass to make that possible. To me that means that people already know who the ‘Bad Guys’ are — the problem always comes back to people not wanting to talk to the police.

  3. caliban says:

    am i the only one who thinks it’s a stupid and sad irony that first we copy american gangs and shootings, and then we try to copy their ‘justice’ system of extended detention? i agree w betteridea that doing nothing is not the answer, but i’d prefer to see less energy put into the people who’ve already committed the crimes and more energy put into preventing them. clearly something is up to give rise to all this violence. everyone says it’s shocking but what really shocks me is how quickly we’ve all gotten used to it. i guess it shouldn’t shock me as its just another american behavior we’re tkaing on.

    • doubtful says:

      As clarification, Britain currently allows detention without charge for up to 28 days for suspected terrorism.

      The problem of any law, such as this, is the potential for abuse. It is a dangerous precedent to give the police such power. On the surface, it may appear perfect to detain the individualsanybody’s rights who are suspected (‘known’?) to be involved in these gun crimes. However, without strict caveats and controls what is there to prevent police deciding any individual is a fair suspect ?
      Who will police the police if they have this power ?

      On the other hand, if there is enough evidence to charge someone on gun offences, then Bail law makes sense. It should not be an option. Anyone who carries a gun is consciously doing so with the intention of being willing to use it and should be treated accordingly.