The Office of the Governor has sought to explain certain ambiguities surrounding the controversial Police Act of 2019, which seeks to replace the current three-decade-old Police Act (Cap 165).
The proverbial bones of contention within the newly proposed Bill are its clauses, 22 and 185. The first states that police officers are not personally liable for acts done under a warrant, while the latter clause provides immunity for police officers acting under the authority of a warrant.
Responding to BVI News queries via email, the Governor’s Office said when the Act speaks of ‘immunity’ for members of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF), it does not mean officers will be exempted from punishment or enjoy freedom from the injurious consequences of an action in all cases.
“In no way, shape, or form, do the clauses in question mean total immunity for police officers. They will continue to be held to the highest standards when carrying out their duties, including being held to account under the Police Act and Regulations,” the email correspondence stated.
Liability would be placed on RVIPF, not individual officers
In explaining the intention behind those clauses, the Governor’s Office said they were made to place the responsibility, or “liability on the RVIPF as an organisation rather than on individual officers”.
“In doing so, the Act ensures a high level of accountability in our security and justice system, whilst also protecting individual officers when acting under orders. It is important to note that the provisions included in the Act already exist across the rest of our public service and in other Police Acts within the Commonwealth,” the Governor’s Office said.
“When off duty, they are accountable to the law just like everyone else,” it added.
RVIPF, Governor’s Office was involved in drafting the proposed Act
The Office of the Governor further said the legislation will build on what it describes as the ‘already high standard of the RVIPF’. It explained that the proposed Act is designed to modernise law enforcement policies in the Virgin Islands.
Meanwhile, the email correspondence said the Governor’s Office, the Attorney General’s chambers and the RVIPF were all involved in the development of the new legislation.
It explained that Attorney General’s chambers was also sought to “ensure that there were no breaches of the laws governing the Territory or the rights of citizens”.
Act failed to pass
The Act, according to Premier Andrew Fahie, failed to pass in the House of Assembly after being recently introduced and debated.
He explained that the Act did not get the support from either side of the political aisle.
“The numbers were not there to approve that Police Act. The members unanimously in terms of voting, instructed me as the Premier and Minister of Finance — and I so was guided — for the Act to go in a full committee of the House so that the concerns that the public had raised can be addressed and that is what true democracy is about,” he said in recent sitting of the HOuse.
Premier Fahie said this would be a Special Select Committee comprising all members. During the proceedings of this select committee, the Police Act will be assessed clause by clause before making a return to the public in a new session of the House of Assembly.
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