Opposition slams bills rushing
Stabroek News. Posted By Miranda La Rose On August 9, 2008 @ 5:17 am In News
‘Legislation requires profound consideration’
The PNCR-1G and the AFC are opposing an extension of the parliamentary session for five bills which they say require careful analysis and for which no special reasons have been advanced by the government.
 Robert Corbin
Leader of the Opposition and PNCR Leader Robert Corbin told Stabroek News yesterday that the PNCR-1G does not see it necessary to meet outside of the stipulated parliamentary sessions when there are no special reasons.
Arguing that it would be illegal for parliament to convene during the statutory recess, he said that he was writing the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ralph Ramkarran saying that the parliamentary opposition do not consider parliament would be meeting legitimately since no special reasons have been advanced by the government.
Corbin said that Prime Minister Sam Hinds wrote to him and he responded that they would not be prepared to meet during the recess because there was no special reason. Notwithstanding the parliamentary opposition’s views, he said the Prime Minister got up and in breach of the Standing Orders proceeded to adjourn the session to next Thursday.
The Leader of the Opposition said there was no emergency to warrant an extension of the parliamentary session since the five new bills could have been tabled before the recess and there is no need to rush them through parliament at this stage.
 Samuel Hinds
He said that the wiretapping bill has far reaching implications for citizens and their civil liberties even though he charged that the government was already tapping telephones.
AFC Leader Raphal Trotman told Stabroek News that the AFC would not be attending parliament next week since their MPs have made plans for overseas travel which include business and vacation. He said that could not be reversed on account of the bills being tabled as part of the government’s planned legislative agenda.
“No where in the request for an extension of parliament does it state that there is a national crisis that requires the recess be put back,” he said.
More important, he said, the bills are dealing with weighty matters for which there is need for broad-based consultation, including for one that disposes of preliminary inquiries in certain cases and the wiretapping bill.
The wiretapping legislation, he said, has serious implications for people’s constitutional rights and civil liberties. “What is the rationale for pushing through with this legislation in a matter of five days,” he asked, adding that “if the government feels it alone can make the decisions, I would hope it doesn’t do so.” If the government is saying that the wiretapping legislation is urgently needed for security reasons, he said that would be a farce since he was quite aware that wiretapping was going on.
 Raphal Trotman
In his letter to Hinds on August 7, Corbin said “As you would appreciate, these bills require in depth analysis, widespread consultation and profound consideration before we could reasonably respond to their thrust, import and intent.” Noting that this problem was compounded by the fact that many members of the opposition would be unavailable “we consider it unreasonable to be expected to effectively scrutinize and arrive at informed positions on these bills in such a short time, and with already depleted numbers”. Corbin therefore recommended a deferral until the parliamentary recess ends in October.
Asked for the reasons for the extension of the sessions to accommodate the bills, Ramkarran told Stabroek News that he received a letter from the Prime Minister seeking an extension of parliament for “special reasons” in keeping with Standing Order No 9.
Standing Order No 9 says that notwithstanding anything contained in Standing Order No 8, which provides for the sitting of the assembly “unless there are special reasons for so doing, no sitting of the National Assembly shall be held from 10th August to 10th October in any year.”
The special reason was for the debate of five new bills which were tabled at the last sitting.
Special reasons in his view did not set a particularly strong requirement and so he acceded to the Prime Minister’s request. He however asked that the Prime Minister confer with the opposition. While the opposition is not in agreement with the extension of the sittings into the recess period, he said he would hope that when parliament resumes on Thursday there would be full attendance. The five bills were only tabled on Thursday.
The Criminal Procedure (Plea Bargaining and Plea Agreement) Bill 2008 makes arrangements for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) or any prosecutor, police prosecutor or attorney authorized by the DPP and the accused to enter into a plea agreement.
The explanatory memorandum of the bill says the proposed law “seeks to reward a person who has entered into a plea agreement and is cooperating with law enforcement authorities or whose cooperation is beneficial to the administration of criminal justice.”
If the Criminal Law (Procedure) (Amendment) Bill 2008 is passed it will formalize so-called paper committals of accused for High Court trials instead of awaiting the end of a preliminary inquiry (PI).
Clause 2 of the bill says that the magistrate presiding over a PI “may admit as evidence on the part of the prosecutor any statements, documents, writings and other articles tendered to the court in the absence of the witness”.
Sub-section two says that if the magistrate is of the view that the evidence so tendered presents an adequate case he/she may commit the accused person for trial. If the evidence does not constitute a prima facie case the accused
Under the Evidence (Amendment) Bill 2008, provisions would be made for enabling the appearance of detainees before court for obtaining bail etc from the place of detention by audio visual link.
The Interception of Communi-cations Bill 2008 would likely raise some civil liberties concerns and encompasses internet traffic.
The bill says at clause 2 that “intercept” for the purposes of telecommunication covers “monitoring of transmissions made by fibre optic cable or any other forms of wire line, by wireless telegraphy, voice over internet protocol, internet and all other forms of electromagnetic communication to or from the apparatus comprising the systems”.
For intercept permission to be granted, an authorized officer may apply ex parte to a judge in chambers for a warrant. Clause 4 (2) says the application for a warrant has to be accompanied by an affidavit deposing the facts or allegations necessitating the application, sufficient information for the judge to issue a warrant and other information.
The warrant under clause 5 shall authorize the tapping of communication transmitted from a private or public system to/or from one or more addresses listed in the warrant. Addresses as defined by the bill include “a location, email address, telephone number or other number or designation used for the purpose of identifying telecommunications systems or apparatus”.
The Telecommunications (Amendment) Bill 2008 would require providers of SIM-cards and cellular phones to establish at their own cost a system of recording and storing particulars of its SIM-cards and mobile cellular phones and the customers utilizing them.
The explanatory memorandum of the bill said that “it has been observed that mobile cellular phones are frequently used to facilitate planning and commission of serious crimes.
Also, there has been a spate of thefts of mobile devices by unscrupulous persons. In order to track these sources in the investigation by the police, the identification of the persons in possession of the cellular devices is very vital”.
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