It is generally known, but only reluctantly acknowledged, that our institutions are failing us. The reasons why this failure is not the subject of broad based civic and political action have been set out in my columns many times.
Currently the Parliament has contributed to a massive national security failure. The anti-gang legislation has expired. It did so at midnight on 23 May 2016. The Bail Amendment Act will also soon expire, this one on 15 August.
Both these pieces of legislation, passed by special majorities, cut deep into the constitutional protection against deprivation of liberty without due process of law. For this reason, both pieces of legislation contain so-called “sunset clauses”, meaning that they have expiry dates.
The purpose of these sunset clauses is to ensure that deprivation of liberty without due process is a temporary measure to be kept under review.
In a civilised society these extraordinary powers given to law enforcement to fight serious crime would be carefully used for the purposes for which they were intended. The effect of their use would be carefully documented and reviewed so that well before the expiry dates, discussion and debate could begin on whether the measures produced any meaningful results and what should be their future, if any.
The experience with these legislative measures is not in the public domain in any detail that makes an informed judgment possible about their renewal, curtailment or removal. We are aware that some persons have been charged or detained using these measures, but skeletal information makes it impossible to access the worth of these measures.
What we do know is that, despite the statistics game, the country is no safer and the murder rate is higher than ever. Moreover, the impunity with which all forms of wrongdoing can be committed is now standard.
To remind readers of merely three examples of standard impunity, I refer again to the murder of Asami Nagakiya last Carnival Tuesday.
More recently, a man was stabbed in the vicinity of the intersection of Wrightson Road and French Street. The car in which he was travelling drove away and from all reports cannot be identified.
It is also routine that persons involved in road accidents likewise simply drive away, unidentified and apparently unidentifiable.
In these cases, although we hear reference to CCTV cameras, the benefits of those cameras, just like the results of evidence supposedly collected by white-coated crime scene operatives, seem to be nil or negligible.
There is an obvious link between our chronic inability to solve crime and the putative value of the two pieces of legislation under review.
It must also be recorded that there appears to be significant deficiencies in the legislative provisions themselves. Decisions in the Courts have exposed some of these.
In the Parliament, after the anti-gang legislation had already expired, a Bill was introduced to extend certain provisions of both pieces of legislation. Although already out of time, the debate on this Bill was abruptly and melodramatically adjourned because a sterile dispute arose about whether the current Government had consulted the Opposition, who—note carefully—had originally brought the legislation!
As is customary, there will be now narrow partisan name-calling and blame game speeches and spin, but little credible examination of the history or of the merits of the legislation.
This will be an extreme manifestation of “fiddling while Rome burns” or of having political cuss-outs while the country bleeds.
Presumably, some time before the expiry of the Bail Amendment Act on August 15, a shoddy compromise will be reached and flawed legislation will be returned to the statute books—probably without serious discussion about the policy and deliverables underlying this legislation and without any repair to its existing defects.
I say this because our failed legislature has for decades passed legislation under pressure of deadlines and in marathon sessions. In the course of these sessions conscientious legislators—and only a few of those can be found—have had their senses blunted by long hours of sitting and pointless partisan speeches about who ‘tief’ what, who did what before and why some act of incompetence is excusable or political wrongdoing is justified because the other side did similarly when they were in power.
We also have a long history of bad legislation being sunk in the Courts and, sometimes producing awards of damages for those against whom the bad legislation was deployed.
I asked a few respected criminal law practitioners whether we could expect some habeas corpus applications seeking release of those still detained under the now expired anti gang legislation.
I did not get clear answers to the habeas corpus question, but I expect another period of unnecessary and expensive litigation, happening of course while the country bleeds more.
Government and Opposition now scrambling to meet and “consult.” That will not staunch the bleeding.
The Parliament bailed out on us a long time ago and “we living in jail”.