People’s comment sought on new police bill

| 21/09/2008

(CNS): The public is still being asked for input on the draft police bill, which proposes a number of changes to the Police Law. As well as establishing in law a defendant’s right to legal counsel on arrest, it paves the way for an independent Police Public Complaints Authority. Revising and updating the current Police Law, it deals with operational duties, the management of police officers and terms of service.

The bill aims to consolidate all matters of appointment, discipline and promotion of police officers of all ranks, matters which are currently split between the Police Law and the Public Service Management Law. It  also deals with how police officers carry out their duties and their commitment to the public. While reaffirming issues such as the fact that RCIPS officers will remain unarmed, it updates procedures surrounding evidence and how samples such as DNA can be taken from the public.

Outlining the general powers of police officers, the bill states that “police officers are deemed to be on duty at all times and that they must collect and communicate intelligence affecting the public peace; prevent the commission of offences and public nuisances; detect and bring offenders to justice; and apprehend all persons whom they are legally authorised to apprehend.”

The bill also governs the power of the police to stop and search suspects and impose emergency curfews, roadblocks and checks, as well as general powers of seizure of property, including computers and computerised information. It also defines when an officer can make an arrest, and the new bill clearly states that a police officer can make an arrest in order to protect a child or other vulnerable person from suspected harm.

The law states too that anyone who is arrested and being held in custody in a police station or other premises is entitled to have a friend, relative or other person who is likely to take an interest in his welfare be informed as soon as possible that he has been arrested and is being detained.

The bill confirms the right to an attorney. “A person arrested and held in custody in a police station or other premises shall be entitled, if he so requests, to consult an attorney-at-law privately at any time,” the new bill states. For the first time, the bill also makes provision for police interviews of suspects to be taped and video-recorded.

The bill sets out a maximum of 48 hours’ detention in the first instance for serious offences such as rape and murder, allowing police time for obtaining or preserving evidence, including questioning of the accused. Under the new proposals, this could be followed by an additional detention period of 24 hours, after which the person has to be produced before a magistrate.

It also sets out details of the new independent Police Public Complaints Authority, which it states shall consist of three persons appointed by the Governor, who will also appoint one of the members of the authority to be the chairman. Neither present or former police, politicians nor those convicted of a crime will be allowed to serve on the authority.

Speaking about the revisions recently, Attorney General Samuel Bulgin said the authority would engender greater public confidence in the investigation of allegations against police officers as well as enhancing openness, transparency and accountability.

“This is consistent with the contemporary approach in dealing with complaints against police officers,” he added. He asked that members of the public, including non-governmental organisations such as the Human Rights Committee, provide their input on all aspects of the draft bill.

Members of the public have until 5:00 pm Tuesday, 30 September, to make their comments heard. Copies of the bill can be picked up from the Legislative Assembly office, or viewed electronically on can be sent to the Attorney General’s Chambers, Fourth Floor, Government Administration Building or e-mailed to


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