Two defence lawyers have expressed to the High Court concern about the high murder rate in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“We are all very concerned as a community with the number of murders that are taking place recently,” Ronald “Ronnie” Marks told the High Court at the closing of the assizes on July 31.
“Although they are confined to mainly gang activities, it is those walking on the street who are worried the most,” he further stated.
“When see the indiscriminate shootings and in public places, it causes concern and we have to all work together, private Bar, DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions), court and the citizens to take back our country and make sure that justice is done and for those who are guilty of murders that there will be proper investigations carried out and facilities provided to the police to make sure that those investigations take place,” Marks said.
He said he had seen a lot of cameras around the town, adding that that is an improvement.
“We are hoping for more so that we can all feel more secure,” Marks told the sitting, presided over by Justices Brian Cottle and Rickie Burnett.
SVG ‘now at the crossroads with crime’
Speaking during the same sitting, defence counsel Grant Connell said that St. Vincent and the Grenadines “is now at the crossroads with crime.
“We all have a role to play to see if we can straighten up the ship. The captain of the ship cannot do it all.”
Connell said that if the captain has to leave the wheel every time the sail shifts, the ship would sink.
“Everybody has to play their role, including lawyers, the people, farmers and the police.”
He said that Marks spoke about cameras but did not say cameras that work and a police force that can work.
Connell said that unfortunately, the full complement of police officers, including Commissioner of Police, Colin John who he said he wanted to compliment was not in court for the sitting.
“It is the rare occasion I have to do that,” he said, referring to the intended compliment he said he had wanted to give to the police chief.
‘men in green trampling the scene’
Connell, referring to senior officers, said there are a few “men in green, who are on the scene…
“I always say the men in green, we need more of them on the scene. You would notice, whenever there is something happening, be it a crime scene, other scene, you see the men in green trampling the scene, walking up and down and when it comes to court and the charge, the constables, the corporals and the sergeants take the lead.
“That should not be. You go there because of merit. Some say to the contrary but I believe that.”
Connell likened the police force to the accident and emergency ward of justice, adding, “and if they get it wrong there, the body of justice would suffer”.
He said that when matters come to court and “lawyers do what they do best, what they are trained to do, to dissect, sometimes, when you throw the body back to the prosecution and they do their post mortem, justice goes a-begging”.
The lawyer said that the private bar wants to level the playing field, adding that to do this, there must be a competent police force.
“We cannot have square pegs in round holes. It must play fair,” Connell said, adding that two people should not come to the police station to file a report and one is entertained and not the other.
He said that some police officers are still constables after over 20 years of service.
“Imagine being in a force 22 years and you are a constable. Even in a supermarket you start out as cashier and reach floor supervisor.”
Even lawyers are silent
The lawyer said the lack of equipping of the police force is “a sad indictment on the system”.
He said that no one wants to talk about what is happening and even lawyers are silent.
“And if lawyers don’t talk, who are supposed to be in the vanguard, God help us all.”
He said that the fingerprinting machine that was donated to the police force does not work.
“That’s like buying an Apple phone and not paying for credit. That don’t make any sense,” the Connell said, adding that police officers do not have the equipment to collect DNA samples at crime scenes.
“The police need to be equipped,” Connell said, adding that as regards electronic interviews, the computer at the Georgetown Police Station ” is rotten, the one in Biabou doesn’t work, the one in town is overheating.
“Someone has to say something on the part of the police,” Connell said, adding, to laughter, “those lawyers knock them all the time and give them a hard time. I do it occasionally”.
He said it is very difficult as a defence lawyer having gone to a court and a case falls and the virtual complainant’s family questions the lawyer about what happened.
“It is extremely difficult to look at them and say, ‘They didn’t do something right.’
“At least, give the lawyer the opportunity to do his job. And he could only do that if you do yours,” Connell said, adding that other islands are investing in their police and this is why Vincentians are leaving to join other constabularies.
“It is because they respect the police, invest in them. When police suffer and they don’t do their jobs, the public suffers,” Connell said.
He said that the commissioner “has to open his mouth and make suggestions”.
‘Nobody is safe’
Connell noted that Marks said the killings were because of gangs.
“I don’t know about gangs. I know about five lives being sprayed down like Bop (an insecticide). As far as I know, a 13-year-old buying bread is not in a gang and a bullet can take out anybody; from pauper right up to prime minister.
“What is the point? Nobody is safe,” Connell said.
A 13-year-old school boy was among five people killed when unknown assailants opened what has been described as assault weapon gunfire on a group of men hanging out in Kingstown on July 19. Connell said that sometimes he feels it for police officers when he sees them during stop and search walking up to and knocking on heavily tinted vehicle windows.
“We know what calibre firearms are in vehicles. That rebuts common sense.”
He said if a good officer, unarmed and with no bulletproof vest approaches a vehicle window “and he is a recipient of a firearm that we hear up there (the scene of the mass shooting in Kingstown), what then? His family cries; no insurance. Dead man. Them we bawl ‘Oh Gawd. Mudder wuk. If we been know is God plan and until such time, we have to do the right thing.”
He said that even if it would offend some people, the government should say what tint is for.
“If it is for emergency? Judiciary? Security? Medical condition?” Connell said and Marks said, “Outside woman.”
“Mr. Marks made a comment. I don’t know anything about that,” Connell said, triggering laughter in the courtroom.
Connell said that if the suggestions are not made to turn the country around, “we are going to have a serious problem”.