A revised version of the government’s controversial policing Bill of 2019 is still proposing to give cops immunity when executing a warrant. However, the revised bill now includes an additional condition.
The 2019 version of the proposed bill had attracted major concerns and public backlash — especially about sections 22 and 185 which together provided immunity for police officers acting under the authority of a warrant issued by a judge, magistrate, or Justice of the Peace.
But in the revised version of the legislation titled the Virgin Islands Police Act, 2023, government lawmakers added a caveat to Section 22 stating that officers would only be immune if they exercise “reasonable force in accordance with Section 190”.
Sections 190 and 191 of the revised bill goes on to state that a police
officer may use force, if necessary, and “as is reasonable in the
circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or in
assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of
persons unlawfully at large”.
A side-by-side comparison of the differences between sections 22 in both the Police Bill, 2019 and its revised 2023 version.
While the term “reasonable force” is commonly used in international law, the context within which it is used in the revised 2023 Police Bill has created some level of ambiguity.
The legislation did not offer a working definition for what would be considered “reasonable”. It also did not specify whose discretion would be used in a court of law to determine whether a particular action was ‘reasonable’ or not.
Several other changes in the Bill
Meanwhile, the change to the controversial ‘immunity clause’ was just one of several revisions made to the overall bill.
A computer-aided comparison between the 2019 bill and the 2023 bill showed that more than 700 changes were made. A breakdown of those changes indicated that there were 316 replacements of words/terms/sentences in the bill, 243 insertions/additions, and 220 deletions.
The proposed Police Act, 2023 was introduced to the House of Assembly last week and is scheduled for debate in an upcoming sitting of the House.