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Dr Gonsalves: I will not allow the Parliament to be stormed!

Dr Gonsalves: I will not allow the Parliament to be stormed!

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Friday, January 28 will be a day that will long be remembered by many Vincentians as the day when supporters of the opposition stormed the gates of the House of Assembly to try to stop enactment of a Bill, which eventually passed just before midnight.{{more}}

The first and second readings of the Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Code Bill, 2011, which has caused heated debate here, took place before the House adjourned for lunch just before 2:00 p.m.

The debate on the Bill began at about 4:45 p.m. or so; time having been lost when the Speaker suspended the sitting at 4:23 p.m. to clear the Strangers’ Gallery for what he deemed to be disorderly conduct.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves opened debate on the Bill, which now makes it mandatory that anyone seeking to file a private criminal complaint must first obtain permission from the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Gonsalves argued that the amendment does not take away the right of persons to pursue private criminal prosecution, but simply allows the Director of Public Prosecution to act sooner rather than later to prevent abuse.

Over the next seven hours, three other Members of the Government: Senator Julian Francis, Senator Douglas Slater and Member of Parliament for South Central Windward Saboto Caesar would make presentations in support of the Bill.

Opposing the Bill, Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace, MP for Southern Grenadines Terrance Ollivierre, MP for Central Kingstown St. Claire Leacock, MP for Northern Grenadines Godwin Friday, MP for West Kingstown Daniel Cummings and Senator Vynnette Frederick spoke.

Members of the Opposition contended that private criminal complaints had not been abused and the existing safeguards of  the Magistrate and the Director of Public Prosecution were sufficient.

Ollivierre asked, “Where is the evidence to show that we have an abuse, an abundance of such cases coming before the Court?”

Three members of the House, MP for Central Leeward Maxwell Charles, the Attorney General Judith Jones-Morgan and Senator Anesia Baptiste, all who worship on the Sabbath, were absent from the sitting.

As the debate went on, the legislators and the staff of the House of Assembly, including the Speaker, appeared visibly tired, and at one point, Cummings asked when the House was going to break so that members could have supper.

Leader of the House, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, addressing Parliament at about 11:45 p.m., said the opposition had declared their intention to bring the government down.

“Anything what happens, it would be this law, it would be another one. That’s fine! This is a free and democratic country. Do what you want to do, but remember this, when you act on the grounds of opportunistic partisan politics, that there will be a resistance. It is natural.”

He said normally, when it gets to six or seven o’clock and the debate (in Parliament) has not concluded, he would have said, “Let it continue on Monday.”

“Today I saw breaches of the law, which were so flagrant, and attempts to storm the Parliament, that I was resolved not to allow that to triumph over the will of the people…. I will not allow the Parliament to be stormed,” he said.

A few minutes before midnight, the Bill was then read for a third time by title and passed.

A vote was taken as to which members of Parliament were of that opinion.

Eleven persons voted in favour of the amendment and six voted against.

The house stands suspended until Tuesday, February 8, when the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2011 will be considered.