As the controversial Police Bill 2023 returns to the House of Assembly (HoA) today Tuesday, February 21, 2023, for further scrutiny, many in the legal fraternity have concluded that the Bill not only undermines human rights and justice but it is a direct threat to the local democracy.
The anti-democratic Bill, seemingly aimed at turning the Virgin Islands (VI) into a police state, is being pushed by the UK-appointed Governor H.E. John J. Rankin, CMG and Police Commissioner Mark Collins, who are both UK Nationals.
Section 49 of the proposed Bill should raise red flags for all residents. The Bill in its current form gives the police powers that, once on your premises, they can seize any item merely on “reasonable grounds” for believing that the item may have been obtained as a result of an offense.
Anything can be seized
The Bill sets out that any item can be seized by police on one’s premises on reasonable grounds, if the police believe it could be evidence in relation to an offense and whether or not the item is being investigated.
The Bill also allows the police to justify the seizure on the grounds that it is necessary to hold the item/s to prevent the evidence from being concealed, lost, or destroyed, according to section 49 (3) b.
So, in other words, if the police come on your property and see a new Bentley car, they can assume via “reasonable grounds” that a resident has obtained that car via illegal means and can proceed to seize the car.
This can apply to any item on your premises from computers, books,
security cameras, boats, jewelry, business, home appliances and
materials, or even high-end watches. The police can keep the item/s
indefinitely on the claim that it is under investigation.
The Bill also allows the police to
justify the seizure on the grounds that it is necessary to hold the
item/s to prevent the evidence from being concealed, lost, or destroyed
according to section 49 (3) b.
No justice no peace
There is no way for the residents to know if that is a fact, and it will be hard for the court to try to interfere with an “ongoing investigation”, according to one legal commentator.
The same proposed Bill in its current form will also allow police to go on someone's premises to conduct a search without a warrant, according to section 36.
At a public meeting in Sea Cows Bay on the main island of Tortola last week, Hon Neville A. Smith (AL), the Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly, said he wrote the BVI Bar Association on this Bill and their advice was to “leave the Bill alone for now, as it takes away fundamental rights and freedom.”
Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley (R7) is the sponsor of the Bill on behalf of Governor Rankin, who cannot come to the Legislature.
The Premier has already assured the Territory that “the Bill will never be passed in its current form”.
Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr the
Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley (R7) is the sponsor of the Bill on the
behalf of Governor Ranking who cannot come to the Legislature. The
Premier has already assured the Territory that 'the Bill will never be
passed in its current form'.