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Lawyers claim political victimization against Exeter

Lawyers claim political victimization against Exeter

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Lawyers for the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) Central Leeward candidate, Benjamin ‘Ben’ Exeter, think that their client is being politically victimized and, as a result, they are expecting that the charges that have been laid against him will be struck out in court.

Exeter’s lawyers, Kay Bacchus-Browne and Israel Bruce, also think that Exeter’s arrest on January 29 was illegal and the police had no right to further charge him on Thursday, January 14under the Public Order Act,{{more}} as the Firearms Act, which allowed Exeter to carry a gun, supersedes the Public Order Act.

Exeter was charged under Section 14 of the Public Order Act, which says that “Any person who, while present at any public meeting or on the occasion of any public procession, has with him any offensive weapon, or otherwise than in the pursuance of lawful authority, is guilty of an offence.”

Exeter was charged with carrying an offensive weapon without lawful authority, but last Tuesday, during a press briefing, Exeter’s lawyers said that they are confident that Exeter will be vindicated when he has his day in court.

“On an even playing field, this charge is supposed to be thrown out. As far as I am concerned there is no legal basis for it (the firearm charge); these are political charges and in a court where I expect us to get a free and fair hearing, the charges should be thrown out,” said Bacchus-Browne.

She said that since Exeter’s charge, she has been bombarded with many telephone calls, while persons have been meeting her in the road and asking if it is an offence to appear at a public meeting with a firearm.

“I do not think that the Public Order Act has any application as such to a person who has a lawful firearm. I say this because, under the Firearms Act, Section 16, subject to the proviso of section 29 (2), a person shall not carry a firearm or ammunition in any public place unless he has on his person a licence, permit or certificate granted by the appropriate authority authorizing him to do so,” said Bacchus.

She said that she is herself a firearm holder and when the weapon is issued, “you are even told by the police that you should keep your firearm with you at all times because it is for your protection.

“It would be ludicrous to give you a firearm and on the other hand say if you ever went to a public meeting with this firearm, then you are committing an offence,” stressed Bacchus.

“I refer to Section 16 (1) which gives you the authority to take your firearm in any public place and this is the law that governs firearms, not the Public Order Act”, said Bacchus-Browne, who added that from her knowledge, the Public Order Act deals with something else.

Bacchus said in her mind, the demonstration in front of Parliament on December 29 does not constitute a public meeting.

“I do not consider that a demonstration falls under the definition of a public place or a public meeting under the Public Order Act. The Public Order Act is dealing with meetings where you have to call the Commissioner of Police or write the Commissioner of Police and get permission to hold a meeting. Even if it is deemed to be a public meeting, I still hold that what was going on when Ben Exeter had his gun was really a demonstration, which he has the right to do under the Constitution. The Constitution is the highest order of the land and it takes precedence over the Public Order Act,” said Bacchus.

She added, “be that as it may, the Public Order Act cannot take precedence over the Firearms Act; the Firearms Act is the Act under which he was granted his licence.”

Bacchus-Browne said that it is very suspicious that Exeter was charged for having his licensed firearm on him and the Unity Labour Party’s (ULP) Carlos James, who contested the last elections in North Leeward, was not charged when he discharged his firearm in Petit Bordel on November 13, 2015, during an altercation between NDP and ULP supporters.

Said Bacchus-Browne on Tuesday, “…Mr Carlos James had a firearm in a public place; people are asking the question, why is it that Carlos James was not charged or any investigation at all…but yet there is this investigation and charge with Ben Exeter?

“To my mind I would not say that Carlos James, having a firearm on him, if he has a licence for it, in a public place that that would be an offence. I am not saying that, I am saying that no investigation as far as I know, was conducted into Carlos James, as to whether or not he has a licensed firearm, as to whether or not it was his firearm and the reasons why the firearm was fired off.”

Bruce added that a number of persons on social media dismissed the incident with James and said that Exeter’s charges were not political, but that is not the case.

“We have a situation where the Commissioner of Police made certain declaration about the initial two charges and 16 days later we have this charge coming against Mr Exeter in relation to the weapon. The weapon was taken off Mr Exeter, the very evening of the 29th of December, so the question you have to ask is this, was there an offence with regards to the weapon at that time? If so, why didn’t the police proffer that particular charge or those sets of charges on that particular day and the answer to that question is obvious, that there was nothing to charge Mr Ben Exeter with regards to the weapon, which he has licence to carry.”

The Prime Minister had, on Thursday, January 7, at a press conference, referred to the Public Order Act in relation to weapons, but said that he was not referring to any particular case.

Bruce further asked, “Did the police have a genuine charge against Mr Exeter that they have now put on paper? Our response is very clear; no. The political witch-hunting continued and this particular occasion, clearly orchestrated by Dr Gonsalves, setting the framework and putting out the call card for this charge to be laid.

“We remain in our position, steadfastly, that Exeter is being pursued politically and the use of the law courts is tantamount to a charade that should not happen in St Vincent and the Grenadines.”

Exeter will reappear in court on Monday, January 25..

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