KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) repealed by the government in 2006 had led to persons believed to have been guilty of criminal offences going free because of technicalities.
Prime Minister and Minister of Legal Affairs Dr. Ralph Gonsalves made the point at a press briefing on Monday as he defended his government’s decision to revoke the law.
He said lawyers at a Monday morning meeting of a Select Committee of Parliament discussing the Interviewing of Suspects for Serious Crimes Act, 2012, tabled in Parliament last week, conceded that after a Privy Council case “PACE was a minefield”.
“The lawyers couldn’t be certain as to where PACE applies and where it doesn’t apply. Well you can imagine the confusion in the heads of policemen and women,” said Gonsalves, a lawyer.
“So what we did, we brought PACE to an end — Police and Criminal Evidence Act of the United Kingdom – because it became applicable to St. Vincent, or parts thereof by virtue of our Evidence Act. There is a general provision in our Evidence Act. That’s how it became incorporated.
“But I explicitly excluded it (PACE) because it created a lot of confusion and it allowed a number of persons who should have been convicted to walk because of a whole set of technical issues.”
He said that this government “brought the confusion to an end” by reverting to “the pre-existing position of the law, which is sound law: the common law, the judge’s rules and the police act covering issues of the voluntariness or otherwise of statements and whether these statements were taken under ‘oppressive conditions’”.
Gonsalves said that former senators Richard Williams and Ronnie Marks, practising criminal lawyers, spoke strongly in Parliament for the repeal of PACE.
“But this is a reforming government. We always have to seek ways and means to strengthen the criminal law and procedure, to put a fine balance where those who have committed serious criminal offences are dealt with in accordance with law. And those who have not, well, they have the opportunity to not to be convicted, to have their innocence affirmed,” he said.
“So we brought this law (Interviewing of Suspects for Serious Crimes Act, 2012) to address serious offences for the purposes of interviewing suspects relating to serious offences and a whole structuring for interviewing … the accused,” he said.