Monumental bills for parliament on Monday – Attorney General

Several transformational bills are set to be tabled during Monday’s sitting of the National Assembly.

This was revealed by Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall, SC, during the closing ceremony of the Citizen Security Strengthening Programme (CSSP) on Friday.

One of the most notable among these, he said, is the Restorative Justice Bill.

The bill will see the establishment of a body that will administer the new act, as well as educate citizens on the relatively new concept of restorative justice.

Restorative justice places emphasis on equal concern for crime victims and offenders, focusing more on the harm done to the involved parties rather than the violation of the law.

The attorney general said forensic personnel, such as criminologists, sociologists, and psychologists play major roles in the process.

“[They] have done all the analyses and have concluded that the traditional and conventional punitive penal sanctions that we have been administering in the world for the past century have not been as effective as they should have been. Therefore, they are exploring newer, more modern concepts of a softer nature directed more to the rehabilitative component rather than the punitive component of punishment,” he explained.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall, SC

Through restorative justice, the inquiry will not necessarily focus on the conduct of the person in a conflict of the law, but rather on the underlying factors or circumstances that led to them committing an offense.

“The theory is that practically, if you don’t address the root cause, and you inflict a punishment of imprisonment and the root cause is a societal factor—perhaps residents in the abode, or the dwelling—and the delinquent is charged and convicted, serves the sentence and upon completion of service of sentence, goes back to the nest that created the problem in the first place, then there is a high likelihood that that person will be back in the prison within a short period,” the AG highlighted.

The government is currently conducting training at the community level across the country.

Persons are also being trained to teach others to serve in restorative justice capacities as well.

“So, this concept, as of Monday when the bill is passed, and when His Excellency assents to it, will become for the first time a permanent feature in our criminal justice system.”

Also, on the order paper to be tabled Monday is an amendment to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Control Act 1999.

“Something that we have to address if we want to stop putting our young people in particular, into the prison system for a protracted period for possession of small quantities of marijuana.

“This particular piece of lawmaking has evoked widespread reaction of a disparate and different nature; some of them competing, some coinciding based upon the different facets of society…. As a government, and in keeping with the objectives of this programme, we have to strike a delicate balance, and that is what our intervention in that piece of legislation seeks to do,” the Attorney General explained.

He noted that while other Caribbean countries have decriminalised small quantities of marijuana, it was decided after several engagements with various facets of society that possession of marijuana will still carry a criminal sentence.

Attendees at the closing ceremony for the Citizen Security Strengthening Programme (CSSP) on Friday

However, while amounts under 30 grammes currently carry a prison sentence of three to five years, the amendment will see persons in possession of 15 to 30 grammes of marijuana receiving community service sentences, while possession of 15 or fewer grammes will see persons being prescribed counseling.

“That is the type of balance that we have to strike if we want to implement laws to govern the lives of people, and we want their consent,” the attorney general said.

He referenced the reconstructed Domestic Violence Act being tabled by Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Dr Vindhya Persaud, which he said will be the most modern expression of that type of legislation in the Caribbean.

Although the current domestic violence legislation has a more civil component to it, as opposed to a penal one, the new legislation will contain both. The Bail Bill, among several other bills, is also slated for debate on Monday.