MPs in hot debate over indemnifying Commission after unlawful prosecution of cops
THE PASSAGE of legislation to validate and indemnify the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) from being dragged before the courts for prosecutorial actions carried out in good faith against a number of police officers was delayed...
THE PASSAGE of legislation to validate and indemnify the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) from being dragged before the courts for prosecutorial actions carried out in good faith against a number of police officers was delayed yesterday after strong objection to the bill from some lawmakers.
Member of Parliament for Clarendon South Western, Lothan Cousins, was the first to push back against the legislation, arguing that INDECOM was on a frolic of its own even though it was consistently cautioned that it did not have prosecutorial powers under the Independent Commission of Investigations Act.
“I don’t believe it is right for us coming here to validate and indemnify INDECOM from its own callous actions. They were on a frolic of their own. We warned them about it several times over. We told them they needed a fiat from the DPP in order to prosecute. They did not listen to any of us,” Cousins said in debating the bill yesterday.
An attorney at law, Cousins told his parliamentary colleagues that as a lawyer he has been involved in matters with INDECOM from 2011.
REFUSED TO RELENT
He said that he had indicated in open court that INDECOM did not have the powers of prosecution, but the police oversight body refused to relent and continued to charge police officers.
Cousins said that officers spent significant sums for legal representation and in some instances police personnel were locked up for weeks or months and had been interdicted with half pay.
He argued that many police officers who were taken before the courts had been acquitted, having spent months behind bars before being granted bail.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, who piloted the legislation, said that the new commissioner of INDECOM was concerned that police officers could successfully file lawsuits against the Government over charges that were brought against them.
“The exuberance of INDECOM was that it could prosecute,” said Chuck, pointing out that the oversight body was strengthened in its position after receiving a ruling from the Full Court in 2014 that it could charge police officers.
According to Chuck, INDECOM continued to prosecute police personnel until 2018 when the Court of Appeal handed down a judgment that it could not charge the police.
After 2018 INDECOM ceased utilising the power to prosecute. However, its appeal to the United Kingdom-based Privy Council was rejected after the country’s final court agreed with the earlier judgment from the Court of Appeal.
However, Chuck sought to convince his colleague lawmakers that INDECOM carried out its actions in good faith. In this regard, he said that the bill was to validate what was done based on the 2014 court ruling.
But Opposition Leader Mark Golding dissented. He is of the view that when Parliament takes steps to pass “validating legislation we are actually taking away accrued rights that people have to seek redress for a breach of their rights”.
He said that given that the Act did not expressly state that INDECOM had prosecutorial powers, the oversight body should have sought directions from the court before initiating prosecutions.
Chuck, however, countered saying that INDECOM was prosecuting in an official capacity from 2010 and received a ruling from the court in 2014 that they were doing so correctly.
“To say that their actions should not be validated would be most unfortunate. It could not be said that they were acting maliciously when they were acting as public servants,” he reasoned.
But Anthony Hylton, member of parliament for St Andrew Western, was not moved by Chuck’s argument. He indicated that the actions of INDECOM would have breached the constitutional rights of police officers, including the right to liberty.
“The question then is how do you act in a way that will extinguish those constitutional rights,” Hylton argued.
Golding agreed with Hylton, saying that Parliament should not enter the arena to modify the right to legal recourse that people may have under the Constitution.
Chuck called for a suspension of the debate to, among other things, ascertain how many cases were prosecuted by INDECOM between 2010 and 2014.