pupThis morning the Peoples United Partys legal team, headed by Senior Deputy Leader Francis Fonseca, held a short press briefing at Independence Hall. The purpose was to present the Partys official position on 5 pieces of legislation introduced to the House of Representatives for first reading. The legislation, including a proposed amendment to the Constitution, is all being heralded by GOB as anti-crime initiatives but to put it nicely, the Opposition isnt buying it.

The legal team released a position paper this morning with its decisions and rationale, but in a nutshell, the Opposition PUP after much consultation and deliberation has decided that it cannot and will not support the preventive detention initiative and trial without a jury proposal tabled by the government. The Party also does not support the proposal for an amendment which will allow for anonymity of witnesses, claiming that enshrined in the Constitution is the right of every accused person to face their accuser and challenge the veracity of that accuser through cross-examination.

In regards to capital punishment, the Party maintains its claim that “it is not the system to impose capital punishment that is broken; it is the liability of those who are tasked with the implementation of the system that is in question.”

The position paper is straightforward, but the legal team did take some time to bolster the arguments presented in black and white. PUP Legal Advisor Anthony Sylvestre claimed that proposed amendments like a trial without a jury are only attempt to give Belizeans a false sense of security.

Anthony Sylvestre PUP Legal Advisor

“The rationale is that if you take away the jury system that there will be an increase in the conviction of serious crimes including murder and others, but as you rightly pointed out for every Belizean who has been following certainly who has been affected by this crime tsunami we all realize that it is not as a consequence of the jury that there is this 3% conviction rate but it is actually the prosecution of the matters in court as well as the investigation and preparation that goes into taking this matter at trial. As the Senior Deputy outlined the way forward that has been proposed by the People’s United Party we have touched on those areas of concern and those areas which seriously and which will actually deal with the issues that we are faced with. We are faced with a very low conviction rate and there is no connection between the conviction rate and the jury system. In fact what it does is that again it creates a false sense of security just as how the amendment for the imposition of the death penalty does it creates a false sense of security to the Belizean Public that if we dispose of this feature of our criminal justice system it will be better, that there will be an increase in conviction rate and that everything will be better and that is far from the truth.”

lisaLisa Shoman PUP Senator

“This Prime Minister has a track record this is third of a series of Constitutional Amendments which he has made since 2008 and not once has the Prime Minister bothered to consult with the people before making these amendments. His style had always been and it seems will always be to propose first and then to have to walk himself back from the position. In 2008 for instance when Preventive Detention was first floated under the Sixth Constitution Amendment Bill Barrow had to withdraw it because it was completely bad for Belize and Belizeans recognised it. Well unfortunately this version is significantly worse both in terms of length and scope and in a terrible application to both nationals and non-nationals alike because forget the fact that citizens are going to be made subject to this but also any visitors to our shores and any person who is here whether legally or illegally except if you have Diplomatic Immunity so that is one of the things that has to be understood and not once has the Prime Minister bothered to consult either the general public or even the Bar Association on these changes so in as many years we have a 3rd Constitutional Amendment. God Proposes and I suppose that it would be man that disposes in that unfortunate simile Jules I hope you are not referring to the Prime Minister as God because I will tell you this our constitution in its very first article of its Preamble affirms that we are a nation founded in our belief in God not Dean Barrow and it says very quickly after that that we are founded in our faith in fundamental rights and freedom, God first Jules but fundamental rights and freedom are extremely close to second and we will not as a party standby any person or any political party derogate from those freedoms without a fight.”

But it wasnt only about opposing the amendments. It was about offering real, doable suggestions to deal with the crime problem in the short and middle terms.

Francis Fonseca PUP Senior Deputy Leader

“We have called on the government to seek immediate technical assistance to address the new threats of Urban Terrorism by way of grenade attack, significantly increase the annual police recruit intake, significantly the number of police officers on patrol in Belize City, reopen and reactivate all police booths and sub-stations that have been closed over the past years, reactivate and adequately resource the community policing and neighbourhood watch programs, adequately resource and train the investigative branch of the Belize Police Department including the Forensic Unity, adequately staff and resource the office of the DPP and the Prosecution Branch of the police department. We have also called on many occasions including most recently in the National Assembly for the government to engage the Belizean people on the discussion regards to the findings of the Crooks Report which seems to have disappeared and to act on the findings of the Crooks Report.”

According to Fonseca, a lot of work went into putting together the position paper on the Governments so-called anti-crime initiatives.

Francis Fonseca PUP Senior Deputy Leader

“We had input from a team of lawyers who work for and in the party and based on those discussion after we had gotten the actual bills that had been tabled on the National Assembly we had a series of meetings with PUP Lawyers and we came up with a first draft which we shared with members of the National Executive and the National Party Council and they provided input and feedback into that first draft. We also had significant input from the legal adviser of the party Anthony Sylvester; we had significant input from the former Party Leader Said Musa, we had input from Senator Lisa Shoman and the Co-Chair of the National Campaign Committee Senator Eamon Courtney. Those ideas coming together really formed the essence and core of the paper then I put everything together and tried to pull it together into one final product which we have shared with the public today.”

We also asked Fonseca if in his research he had come across any countries in which initiatives like the type proposed by GOB had worked to combat crime.

Francis Fonseca PUP Senior Deputy Leader

“Certainly in the Common Wealth there is no evidence of any of these measures being adopted at the constitution level there are certain provisions which we hear the Prime Minister talking about in the U.K Legislation. U.K does that have a written constitution. You hear him talk about Trinidad and Tobago those are very different provisions. In the U.K they are dealing with terrorisms and even in those cases where they are dealing with terrorism there is a process which provides for application to the court before people are detained. In Trinidad and Tobago they are dealing with fraud cases and complex cases but those are properly defined. The other countries that have gone down this road are; you know it is embarrassing to even call out some of these countries like in Africa. These are already dictatorships these are already countries that are on that path where the state is fully in control of everything. We don’t want to go down that road here in Belize so we should not be following the example of these types of states. There are no examples of any modern developing growing societies in which these types of constitutional proposal have been advanced and have been proven to work.”

But with all that said and done, the Prime Minister has said that public dissent or not, the amendments will be passed.

Francis Fonseca PUP Senior Deputy Leader

“I think that seems to be his thinking, I think a lot will depend on the Belizean people coming out for these consultations. The last time when he proposed the Sixth Amendment Bill the Belizean people were very vocal well organized and they had to back out. I think he is determined to proceed regardless of what people have to say but it think people will have to make sure that they take a firm stand on these issues and the PUP will have to lead the way, we will have to lead the efforts to ensure that Belize does not become a police state.”

The PUP will now embark on a round of consultations with its membership to disseminate the Partys position.

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