BVI, Caribbeanand International News

Governor defends controversial Police Act despite strong public concerns

Governor defends controversial Police Act despite strong public concerns

Governor of the Virgin Islands John J. Rankin, CMG has defended the amendments to the Police Act 2023 as proposed, despite widespread public criticisms the Bill in its current form will take away from the rights of the people as well as empower the police to abuse citizens.

Speaking at a Wednesday, February 14, 2023, press conference, the Governor said despite the concerns he is committed to protecting the Human Rights of individuals within this territory.

Police act not a rushed piece of legislation - Governor

“BVI is a territory which benefits from the European Convention of Human Rights applying to it and indeed my own background as a human rights lawyer, and I would always wish to do nothing, which is a contravention of international human rights standards.

“Secondly, let me say that the Police Act and its updating has actually been in progress for many years, and therefore, it is not a rushed piece of legislation and what's also important is that while protecting human rights, we also give the police the modern techniques which are required to tackle modern crime, and one of those techniques, for example, is taking DNA samples,” he said.

In Section 27-35 which deals with fingerprints, foot impressions and DNA, concerns were raised that the Bill essentially allows the police to take fingerprints of a person without consent in almost every imaginable circumstance, without a warrant for the same.

The Governor defended that DNA and fingerprinting can be carried out and if that is used... for example to catch a rapist, “I make no apology for that,” he said despite the potential for abuse.

Meanwhile, Section 36 of the same Bill will allow for the police to search persons in their dwellings without a warrant, if they have reasonable grounds for believing that the person does not live there or does not have permission to be there.

Section 38 will allow a police officer to search the home of someone who is arrested on an arrestable offense without a warrant, even without that person being present. This provision should frighten the public on the face of it, according to one local activist.

Governor of the Virgin Islands John J. Rankin, CMG has defended the amendments to the Police Act 2023 as proposed, despite widespread public criticisms the Bill in its current form will take away from the rights of the people as well as empower the police to abuse citizens.

No warrants sometimes necessary - Governor Rankin

Governor Rankin added, “With regards to going to a house without a warrant, sometimes in an emergency situation that will self-evidently be required. If the police have reason to believe that a serious crime is going to be committed, if someone is going to be subject of a violent assault or a murder, then the police need to act to protect the individual,” he said.

The Police Act, 2023 had its first reading on Thursday, February 2, 2023, in the HoA, sparking an immediate public backlash.

Premier Dr the Hon Natalio D. Wheatley (R7) said Members of the House of Assembly have engaged the BVI Bar Association, individual lawyers, concerned citizens, and a number of other stakeholders and the concerns are consistent enough to warrant that the bill not be passed in its current form.

Dr Wheatley had also expressed concern that the public was not privy to and did not request certain amendments that had shown up in the draft Bill.

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