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Two controversial bills to come this week

Two controversial bills to come this week

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Persons anxiously awaiting the outcome of the debate in Parliament on the proposed amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code and Representation of the People Act will have to wait a bit longer.{{more}}

Although the first reading of the Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Code and the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bills, were included on the order paper for last week’s Parliamentary session, legislators were kept busy debating the 2011 Revenue and Expenditure Estimates.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, during the presentation of the 2011 Estimates on Thursday, January 20, said that the two Bills will be considered only after the Appropriation Bill had been dealt with.

Debate in the 2011 budgetary debate got underway yesterday and according to Gonsalves, this process usually takes up to a week.

“That debate (Budget) usually wraps up by Friday,” he said, noting that it had been brought to his attention that the inclusion of the two Bills on the Order Paper had resulted in some additional public interest.

The prime minister contended that he anticipated the Budget debate would be shorter than previous ones, but still expected that the additional Bills would not be looked into until later this week.

The proposed amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code makes it mandatory for persons to seek the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to bring a private criminal complaint, while the proposed amendment to the Representation of the People Act removes sections 51.3 and 51.4 of that Act.

Section 51.3 says it is an illegal practice for any person who, before or during an election, for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate or prospective candidate at such election, to make or publish a false statement about the personal character or conduct of a candidate in an election. Section 51.4 sets out the penalties for Section 51.3. The penalties include being barred from being a Member of Parliament for five years.

The Acts which the Bills seek to amend have been the subject of public interest in recent times, as in the last two weeks, they were used to bring 10 private criminal charges against four government ministers.

Four of the ten summonses were not issued by Chief Magistrate Sonya Young, as they were deemed by her to be “frivolous and vexatious.”

A few days later on January 13, 2011, DPP Colin Williams took a decision to discontinue the criminal proceedings in relation to the other six, on the grounds that based on an assessment of the evidence, they did not meet the threshold to go on to a trial.

Williams explained that the Criminal Code, as it stood, created a parallel institution where persons felt that there was a free for all and they can just go and circumvent the lawful authorities and institute criminal proceedings.

The discontinuation of the criminal charges has caused much controversy among some members of the public, including the legal team of the New Democratic Party, who stated that under the existing Criminal Procedure Code, a FIAT was not needed for the filing of a private criminal complaint.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, on a call-in radio program on January 16, said that the recommendation for the amendment to the Criminal Code had been made since 2010.

In a televised statement last Wednesday, January 19, 2011, Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace and two Vice Presidents of the NDP, St. Clair Leacock and Godwin Friday, called on supporters and other persons in the public to stage a protest outside the Parliament, last Thursday, while the Estimates were being presented. (DD)

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