The new Police Act that is to be implemented in the British Virgin Islands is proposing to give police officers immunity while acting under a warrant.
This is one of the many changes expected under the legislation, which seeks to replace the current three-decade-old Police Act (Cap 165).
In publicly reading some of the provisions outlined in the new Act, Opposition legislator Julian Fraser expressed several concerns, stating that there are too many ambiguities that will need to be addressed in the proposed legislation.
Police officers not liable under warrant
Such examples include clauses 22 and 185 of the Act. 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.
“Really? Absolute immunity? That is something I have to find out — what does immunity mean here in this particular clause,” Fraser stated. “A police officer cannot have total immunity acting under a warrant. [They can] go in a person’s house and do whatever they want and say that they’re acting under a warrant and they have immunity.”
Fraser further outlined clauses 26 to 36 of the Act which deals with the powers and duties of police officers in relation to the identification of evidence.
“Police officers are given the power to take for use and record in the services registry any photographs, description, measurement, fingerprint, palm print, footprint, or other physical specimens of any person in lawful custody,” he said while reading verbatim from the proposed legislative document.
He continued: “A police officer has the power to seize items found during a search where he or she has reasonable grounds to believe that they were used in a commission of an offence, and where an item is computerized with information, he or she may seize the computer or have access to and be afforded the opportunity to copy that material.”
Fraser said he believes such clauses give true meaning to the terminology of what a police state defines.
RVIPF to be renamed
In addition to these changes, the Act proposes to rename the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force to the Royal Virgin Islands Police Service.
Fraser said that a Bill that has so many significant implications to residents should be discussed at the community level before reaching the House of Assembly.
He, therefore, called on Premier Fahie to take such action to ensure that the public gets involved with the process.
“I’m suggesting very strongly to the Premier that the direction this bill is taking right now, the form it’s taking on, to be directed to a form of public consultation. This bill belongs in the public domain for consultation [so] people can voice their opinion and offer their suggestion,” Fraser stated.
Other members of the Opposition such as its leader, Marlon Penn echoed the need for public consultation and in response, Premier Andrew Fahie pledge to “ramp up” public discourse as it relates to the proposed law.
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