Bill allowing Police to use non-lethal weapons receives bipartisan support

– AFC’s Ramjattan urges Govt to expedite implementation

There is expected to be less tension between the members of Guyana Police Force (GPF) and civilians with amendments to the Police Amendment Bill 2021 receiving bipartisan support in the National Assembly on Monday.

Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn

Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn presented the bill which will amend the Police Act. According to the Minister, the bill will provide for Police to have non-lethal weapons on their person, including stun guns, night sticks and pepper spray.
This means that Police will not be limited to using guns when there is need to force a suspect to comply. This will, according to the Minister, go some way to improving interactions between the Police and civilians.
“We identify that we want to avoid situations in which the engagement moves from a scuffle because we have seen these instances on Facebook and other places, where persons have taken the resort of scuffling and even fighting with the Police, resisting arrest and unfortunately in some instances the Police may have to go to what is described as lethal force.”
“We want to avoid the result of having to go to the use of firearms. We want to be able to go through a staged response in respect in the use of force by our Police,” Minister Benn explained to the National Assembly.

Former Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan

Besides Benn’s colleagues, the Government’s move to present this bill received support from the main Opposition A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC). Several Opposition speakers rose to support the bill.
Benn’s predecessor, former Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, in fact, urged the Government to expedite the implementation of the amendments. He also called for clarity on exactly what kind of non-lethal projectiles are being contemplated in the bill.
“Kinetic impact projectiles. Whatever those are, at least the members of the public security committee in Parliament, I think I’m a member, Geeta (Chandan Edmonds) is a member, we should be told what are these projectiles so we could see.”
“Because we could very well have all these that you regard as non-lethal, being very, lethal. So let us understand it. But please, honourable member, get down to the task of implementing these stages that are going to work in our Police architecture,” he said.
The Amendment also removes Section 25 of the principal Act. This section sought to make provision for the use of DNA information for the purpose of identification.
In addition, The Evidence (Amendment) Bill 2021 was also passed with alterations during the 32nd sitting of the National Assembly of the 12th Parliament, on Monday.
The Bill amends Section 42 of the Evidence Act, Chapter 5:03, to better provide for the role of the officers of the Guyana Forensic Science Laboratory and other analysts when required to provide evidence in matters before the courts.
Home Affairs Minister, Robeson Benn who presented the bill stated that Clause 2 of the Bill seeks to modify Section 43 of the Principal Act to include the report of an “evidence officer” as receivable by the court.
He added that the clause also amends subsection (4) to expand the list of objects that can be examined by an analyst to include “hair”.
Additionally, amendments were also made to make receivable as evidence certificates or laboratory examination forms issued by the Guyana Forensic Science Laboratory or any other accredited forensic science laboratory, as prescribed by the Minister, by order, after consultation with the Director of the Forensic Science laboratory.
Further, subsection (5) was amended to include a “science officer of the Guyana Forensic Science Laboratory” and to remove “scientific officer of the Guyana Police Force”, while there was the insertion of subsection (6) to include the definition of an “evidence officer”.
“The Evidence Act has some weakness in relation to chain and custody…and so, we propose the insertions of appropriate language to make the legislation more secure so people could proceed with proper handling of evidence,” Minister Benn told the National Assembly.
He reiterated that the intention is to tighten the legislation, taking into account the appropriate use of the Guyana Forensic Science Laboratory so that issues relating to crime, and evidence relating could be dealt with aptly at the level of the courts.
Supporting the Bill was Government Member of Parliament, Sanjeev Datadin, who noted that the forensic laboratory was established in keeping with an evolving legislative framework to meet the needs of the country.
The laboratory, he said, is mandated to perform certain duties. However, in order to perform those duties, the personnel must be authorised to do so in accordance with the legislation.
Simultaneously, as science advances and technology improves, changes must be made to the legislation. Therefore, the amended legislation is timely and must be commended.
Following the one-hour debate, the bill was passed with support from the parliamentary Opposition.