Soldiers pitched a camp at a savannah at Angies Field Road in Richplain, two days after Cpl Wallace and Charles were killed during the christening party for Wallace’s son Jaydon on June 15. There have since been reports by residents of beatings by the soldiers and the detention of several persons in the absence of the police.
The Council of the Law Association met yesterday in a special session, nine days after the murder, to let their views be heard.
In a signed statement, president of the Law Association, Martin Daly SC, said the Defence Force has no legal right to use emergency powers in the absence of a constitutionally-declared state of emergency.
“The Law Association fully understands that there is a national security crisis in the country, but it cannot support and must warn against the use of emergency powers in violation of the core principals of constitutionality, without the declaration of a state of emergency,” Daly said on behalf of the council.
He lauded the role of the Defence Force in 1990 and said citizens beleaguered by criminals in any area feel relief at the army’s presence. However, he said the association questioned the “lack of even-handedness” in an armed service acting in response to the murder of one of their own, while numerous murders of innocent civilians pass by unnoticed. The association is “also concerned about the operation of ‘lock down’ in the absence of a state of emergency.”
Daly warned that in the absence of a constitutionally-declared state of emergency, any coercive action affecting citizens’ rights must respect four principles.
Firstly, except for self-defence, the Defence Force can only take action “at the direction of the constitutionally-elected Government.”
“It cannot otherwise act on its own initiative. Applying this to Richplain, Diego Martin, the public is entitled to know who on behalf of the Government gave the order to the Defence Force to go there and when, and through which superior officer of the Defence Force.”
Secondly, the powers of arrest of members of the public are vested in the Police Service not the Defence Force.
Thirdly, there is no such legal term as “lock down” and the sealing off of any area does not overthrow the legal criteria for the exercise of the powers of arrest, search and seizure.
Fourthly, Daly said, “any joint exercise by the Police Service and the Defence Force can be carried out only on the authority of the police.”
In such an exercise, members of the Defence Force may act to assist or support the police, but cannot be in charge of the operation or exercise.
“We are generally concerned about the lack of transparency in these operations, which should properly receive the scrutiny of the media whose members should not be unreasonably impeded.”
Daly said the association felt that while many citizens are terrified by crime this was not a justification for unconstitutional action.
“The rule of law must be observed and if an emergency exists then the emergency powers available under the Constitution must be activated.”
Acting Chief of Defence Staff Col Roland Maundy last night insisted that the army has never acted without the police during the Richplain exercise.
“We did not go out alone. I can’t go out alone. We have to go with the police, so that the vesting of the power of arrest remains in the hands of the police. What I do, I assist the police in any action to ensure that they get their job done. But I don’t arrest, the police do,” said Maundy.
Asked to comment to the Law Association’s concerns about the legality of a “lock down” outside of a state of emergency Maundy said this was not a Regiment issue.
“I don’t want to make a comment on behalf of the (Defence) Force. That becomes a Force issue and any issue relating to the Force must pass through my chief. We all work we have a particularly hierarchy. I’m within that hierarchy. I also get instructions.”
Assistant Commissioner of Police for Crime Gilbert Reyes last night echoed Maundy’s position.
“The army is a assisting in this operation. The question of power of arrest does not arise at all because the police are there.”
In dealing with the association’s questions about the legality of a “lock down”, Reyes said, “The police never use the term lock down.”
He said the police remained the lead agency in the Richplain operation which he added will continue.
“In dealing with criticisms over the lack of transparency, Reyes said, “I don’t think any government or any operation will tell everybody exactly what we are going to do and when we are going to do it. It will make no sense whatsoever because you are dealing with some criminals who are very very smart and know exactly what they are doing.”
Minister of National Security Martin Joseph last week told the Senate that the exercise was a joint police-army action that had been arranged at a meeting between top-brass, which included Maundy and Reyes, although this statement has been challenged by the Opposition.
Joseph’s communication department last night said he is expected to respond today to the Law Association’s concerns.