The Public Order and Criminal Justice Bill 2020 is getting a lot of attention from the residents. Personally I believe all Parliamentarians should meet with the constituents before a bill is debated in the house so that they can hear the view points from others. Unfortunately, I believe that some of our politicians believe that the fact we vote for them give them the right in the House to represent us without consulting us.
I read the bill multiple times so I can gather my own thoughts on this bill rather than reading what others had to say.
Purpose of the Bill
The purpose of this bill is to create new Public Order offences and to control the dissemination of offensive messages and false information.
How does a bill get to the House of Assembly?
When the Attorney General (AG) appeared on Financially Speaking radio show (a program that I host every Tuesday on RTC) she explained the process. The Government of the day presents to the AG a legislature agenda. The AG chambers then draft legislations based on the agenda of the Government. Once the legislation is finalized, it goes to Cabinet for approval. Once Cabinet approves it, it then goes to the House of Assembly for Debate for three readings. If approved in the House, it becomes an ordinance and the Governor assents to the new Ordinance and it becomes law.
Therefore any bills presented to the House of Assembly are bills that the Government initiates. After all, one of the main purposes of a Government is to enact laws.
Threats no longer have to be in writing only
Based on our current laws, if a person makes a threat against you, that threat must be in writing. As a result of this, it is very challenging to persecute people if the threat is not in writing. Quite frankly, very few people put threats in writing. Many people have received threats by voice notes on their telephones but the justice system does not allow that in court. I recalled a very popular criminal had a voice note with threats on it and it became viral however, they could not do anything with it. With this proposed bill, a threat does not have to be in writing any longer and so voice notes can be used as evidence against someone that threatens you.
Television and radio broadcasters are excluded in Section 10
Section 10 specifically excludes television and radio broadcasters.
Protection of jurors and judicial officers
Part 1V of the Bill protects witnesses, jurors, judicial officers from intimidation and harm. This is a good thing but can also be a bad thing. For example, if someone writes and exposes witnesses, jurors and judicial officers in prejudice, that person can possibly be guilty of causing intimidation for expression his opinion. The persons may claim they are intimidated.
Abusive and insulting words can be subjective
The Bill has the words abusive and insulting multiple times. What is considered insulting to one party may not be considered insulting to the other party and therefore this is very subjective.
Proving that the message cause distress will be hard to prove
Section 9 prevents someone from sending a message that is offensive, false, indecent or threatening. However, the sender can only be guilty if there is proof that the sender cause distress or anxiety to the recipient.
Interpretation of immediate is missing
The Bill stated that the threat of violence has to be immediate. What is the definition of immediate? This is open for interpretation by the Police, the Courts and the Defense. More clarity is needed on this.
Proving it was intentional
There has to be intention by the offender to cause a person harassment, alarm of distress. How do you prove it was the intention of the offender to cause harassment, alarm or distress? This may be very difficult to prove.
Clarification of same dwelling and separate dwellings
There has to be clarification of dwelling. The offenses cannot be committed if both individuals are in the same dwelling or in separate dwellings. This is very confusing. For example if a neighbor sits on his porch and say some abusive words to his neighbor, there may be no grounds for the neighbors to pursue a case against his neighbor.
Section 5 and Section 4 are similar except …..
Section 5 and Section 4 are similar except that that behaviour and words do not need to be aimed at anyone in particular.
Section 6 referencing is misleading
Section 6 makes reference to intent for section 5 but section 5 in itself does not use the words intentional. However, section 4 uses the word intentional but section 6 does not make any reference to section 4. It does make reference to section 2 and 3.
Meaning of menacing can be open to interpretation
There is reference to menacing in Section 10 but there is no clarification on what is meant by menacing. This word can be open to interpretation by the victim, the Police and the judicial system.
How do you prove that you knew the information sent was false?
Section 10 also prohibits messages from being send knowing it was false. This is very subjective because one can send information thinking it was true. How do you prove the person knew it was false?
As you can see, there are merits and demerits in this Bill. I believe that most people are concern that this bill will limit their rights to express how they feel. A lot of sections of this bill will be difficult to prove in court. Furthermore, please note that your freedom of expression is protected by the Constitution. Please see an excerpt from the Turks and Caicos Islands Constitution below.
Fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual
“1. Whereas every person in the Islands is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, the right, without distinction of any kind, such as race, national or social origin, political or other opinion, colour, religion, language, creed, association with a national minority, property, sex, sexual orientation, birth or other status, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest, to each and all of the following, namely—
(a)life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law;
(b)freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association; and
(c)protection for his or her private and family life, the privacy of his or her home and other property and from deprivation of property save in the public interest and on payment of fair compensation,
the subsequent provisions of this Part shall have effect for the purpose of affording protection to the aforesaid rights and freedoms, and related rights and freedoms, subject to such limitations of that protection as are contained in those provisions, being limitations designed to ensure that the enjoyment of the said protected rights and freedoms by any individual does not prejudice the rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.” (source :Turks and Caicos Islands Constitution)