Was Griffith legally appointed as acting CoP? MSJ concerned about behaviour of PSC, AG, Chandler and firearm license scandal

“[…] The Legal Notice stipulated that the PSC had to submit to the president a list of persons who could act… Was such a list sent to the president? 

“To date, the Parliament has not given its approval to an acting CoP. Questions may therefore arise if Mr Griffith is legally appointed as acting CoP…”

The following press statement on issues surrounding the appointment of Gary Griffith as acting commissioner of police, the acting COP’s view on firearms, the behaviour of TTPS Legal Unit head Christian Chandler, and the concerning legal interventions of attorney general Faris Al-Rawi was submitted to Wired868 by Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) political leader David Abdulah:

Photo: Acting Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith.
(via CoP)

The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) is very concerned about matters surrounding the Office of the Commissioner of Police. 

Firstly, there is the issue of the failure by the Police Service Commission (PSC) to finalise its recommendations of the ‘merit list’ prior to the contract of Mr Gary Griffith coming to an end on 17 August. This has resulted in the PSC appointing Mr Griffith to act in the position of CoP. 

While there have been acting commissioners on many occasions before, what is very unusual about this situation is that Mr Griffith holds no substantive post in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS). In the past, the PSC would have appointed a member of the senior ranks—such as deputy commissioner or assistant commissioner—to act.

In normal circumstances, when a person’s contractual period comes to an end and is not immediately renewed, that person leaves the position. 

In June of this year, the government laid in Parliament: Legal Notice 183 of 2021. This was supposedly meant to simplify the process by which the PSC would arrive at its merit list of candidates for the CoP position, which would then be submitted to the president who then sends it to the Parliament for debate and a decision as to which person on the list would be appointed as CoP and/or deputy CoP.

Photo: Police Service Commission (PSC) chair Bliss Seepersad (left) presents Gary Griffith with his letter of appointment as police commissioner on Friday 3 August 2018.
(via TTPS)

That was all well and good as the previous process was both very lengthy and costly. However, there is a sting in the tail. Clause 4 of the Legal Notice states that:

‘Where either the post of commissioner of police or deputy commissioner of police is vacant or is about to become vacant, the Commission may submit to the president a list of suitably qualified persons from amongst the ranks of the Police Service—including those on contract or previously on contract—as nominees to act in the offices of commissioner of police or deputy commissioner of police, pending the conclusion of the procedure prescribed in paragraph 3.’

A number of questions arise from this. Was the PSC aware that it could not complete its task before 17 August?  Did they therefore request that the attorney general take to Parliament a Legal Notice that would allow them to appoint a person ‘on contract or previously on contract’ to act as CoP?

There is only one such person and that is Mr Griffith. Should the law be framed in such a way as to suit one individual? 

What are the implications of this as the PSC is supposed to be independent of the executive (government)?

Photo: Acting Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith at a TTOC function.
(via TTPS)

And very importantly, the Legal Notice stipulated that the PSC had to submit to the president a list of persons who could act. The president cannot appoint a CoP. And the PSC can only appoint after the Parliament approves a candidate on the list sent to it by the President. 

Was such a list sent to the president? 

To date, the Parliament has not given its approval to an acting CoP. Questions may therefore arise if Mr Griffith is legally appointed as acting CoP. 

Already, the T&T Police Welfare and Social Association representing all Second Division police officers has expressed their disquiet about this situation.

The second issue is not of the making of the PSC, but of the Acting CoP. 

He is quoted as stating: ‘It is because of slackness that took place before my watch, where people were not being given their right to bear arms and defend themselves.’ And: ‘There is a law, and any commissioner […] does not understand his responsibility, if there is a law that gives law abiding citizens the right to apply and own a firearm.’

Photo: Then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (centre) leads a police exercise.

The MSJ’s position is clear. There is NO constitutional or legal right of citizens to bear arms. None. One may have the right to apply to own a firearm, but that does not give you the right to own one. 

If that was the case then the CoP would not have to approve the application, all that would be needed to get one legally is to fill out a form.

Mr Griffith likes to speak as if he alone is right. He is not right on this issue and this is not good for the country as in this instance his perception of the law and his powers could take us down a very wrong road. This is borne out by the fact that some persons have been given licences to own multiple firearms including high powered rifles. 

We also question why there are so many registered businesses that can sell firearms—more than 50 in a country with our population size. The acting CoP is reported as saying ‘things are getting out of control’. 

What is worse is that evidence has now surfaced that there is corruption in the issuing of firearm users licenses, with two police officers being recently charged in this regard. 

Photo: A foreign gun dealership offers weapons for sale.

The MSJ calls for a very careful review of the policies for both the registering of companies to sell firearms and the issuing of firearm users licenses.

The third issue involves a civilian who holds a senior position in the TTPS—that of head of the Legal Unit. One matter involving Mr Christian Chandler is being investigated by the police and has caused him to ‘proceed on leave’. We await the outcome of this investigation. 

There are also other issues of concern, including an alleged dress code for women. What is very disturbing, however, was the reported comment by the attorney general on the incident involving Mr Chandler: 

‘Even though there may be more than five in a vehicle or any mode of transport, as long as they are not without mask then there is no offence committed… Going on a boat to your island home is perfectly lawful. Rafting up and having a party is not.’

Was the AG incautiously providing a legal defence for Mr Chandler? While he did say he wouldn’t comment further as there is a police investigation, shouldn’t the AG have said nothing at all?

Photo: Then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (right) and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
(via TTPS)

Did he cross any of the lines of the separation of powers? 

The information in the public domain strongly suggests that this was not a boat ride to an island home and given the AG’s statements in the Parliament yesterday about the powers of the police going on to private property in the SoE, it seems strange that nobody has yet been charged.

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