There are mixed reactions within the legal fraternity on whether the Anti-Gang Bill should have been allowed to continue for a further 30 months from its expiration on November 29, 2020.
Even with amendments, criminal attorney Mario Merritt believes the legislation will not be successful in making any real impact.
“Tell me any significant conviction it has achieved with this Anti-Gang Bill. The fact is there hasn’t been any,” Merritt noted during an interview with Guardian Media yesterday.
“It is not only unworkable, it is not helpful. Nothing that it has in it we could not have achieved without it. The law exists already to deal with crime so to make being a member of a gang a crime of itself as opposed to the crime that you would naturally be doing, I have a problem with that,” he added.
Merritt has represented clients who were held under this piece of legislation.
He expressed concern that the legislation strips citizens of their basic rights without tackling actual crime.
According to Merritt, “I understand the need of the Opposition to want to say that we would not support it until you give us something to but, I am asking myself even if they did, what would have been the benefit of it? Locking up people? Putting them in jail? Convicting them? No, not really. We have not been able to do it for the nine years it has been around.”
National Security Minister, Stuart Young, last Friday in the Parliament defended the legislation saying, “there is no single piece of legislation that would eradicate the scourge of gang activity”.
Noting that police are in support of the removal of the bill’s 30-month sunset clause, Minister Young made it clear that it is being utilized with no reports of abuse by law enforcement.
However, Attorney Merritt was adamant that there are other ways to reduce crime such as social programmes.
He stated, “If you tell me there are 12,000 gangs and you reduce it by 300 gangs, can you name those gangs you started off with? Can you tell me how much it has actually been reduced by now?”
Meanwhile, Israel Khan SC, admitted that the legislation is harsh but he believes it is what is needed to root out criminals before crimes are committed.
“I am of the sincere view and the people who have been following this Anti-Gang legislation, most of them are of the view that the Opposition is not really assisting with the administration of justice in that if there is chaos and murders flies out of control then, that will assist them in regaining control as a government,” he told Guardian Media.
The senior counsel added that he does not buy into the Opposition’s argument that the legislation has not achieved its goal of cracking down on gangs.
“Alright, then let us abolish the crime of corruption because nobody has been charged. Well, a few people have been charged,” he indicated.
Khan believes the Opposition will pay a heavy political price for not at least trying to work with the government.
In responding to the Opposition’s failure to support the bill last Friday, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith insisted that over 70 people of interest were arrested over the last few years involved in gang activity. He furthermore noted that the legislation has resulted in over 115 fewer murders this year.