Such foolishness

One person stabs another in broad daylight. The person who is stabbed and hospitalised requests the assistance of the police. The police tell the person who was stabbed that they cannot do anything until she brings a completed medical report form. The person who is stabbed is hacked to death with a cutlass less than a week after the police fail to offer any assistance.

Have you ever heard such foolishness in your life? Sadly as a lawyer the answer to that question is yes. The powers that be in Barbados seem to have lost their minds and are all too willing to abdicate their responsibilities on the flimsiest of pretexts, if they bother to offer any excuse at all.

Section 4 of the Police Act, Chapter 167 provides that “the [Royal Barbados Police] Force shall be primarily employed for:

(a) the maintenance of law and order;

(b) the preservation of peace;

(c) the protection of life and property;

(d) the prevention and detection of crime; and

(e) the enforcement of all laws and regulations with which it is charged.”

Section 19 goes on to set out the compulsory duties of the police force and states that: “It SHALL be the duty of all members of the Force

(a) to preserve the peace and prevent and detect crime and other contraventions of the law;

(b) to apprehend and bring before a magistrate persons found committing any offence rendering them liable to arrest without a warrant or whom they may reasonably suspect of having committed any such offence or who may be charged by any person with having committed any such offence….”

Generally a warrant obtained from a magistrate is required for the arrest of a person who has or is suspected of having committed an offence. However, there are circumstances in which even the law recognises that this requirement should be unnecessary.

Section 20 of the Police Act states that: “(1) It shall be lawful for any member of the Force to arrest without a warrant

(a) any person whom he suspects on reasonable grounds of having committed a felony;

(b) any person who shall be charged by another person with committing an aggravated assault in any case in which such member of the Force has good reason to believe that such assault has been committed although not within his view, and that by reason of the recent commission of the offence a warrant could not have been obtained for the apprehension of the offender;

…(j) any person whom he has reasonable cause to suspect has committed any offence rendering him liable to arrest without a warrant.”

Would someone please tell me how any police officer could think that a stabbing does not qualify as an aggravated assault. Would someone please tell me how a police officer could remain unaware of the provisions of section 20.

Would someone please tell me how, if the law does not require a warrant, a safety measure against the arbitrary assertion of the State’s powers, a police officer could think that some administrative medical form is of greater importance.

A medical report form would only state the nature of the injuries and the treatment administered. It makes no reference to the person who committed the crime. It is simply an administrative record for the trial of a matter, a question of evidence and nothing more.

I know any number of people who have been arrested or harassed by police on tenuous or unfounded suspicions, yet too many victims of domestic and other violence report that the police told them to “get a lawyer”. For the life of me I cannot understand of what assistance I could be to someone who has been stabbed as far as the preservation of their life is concerned.

All I can do is get some compensation for their injuries after the fact and believe me, there is no compensation that will bring the dead back to life.

I would bet my last dollar that any number of police officers turned up without a warrant to pull a blanket over the deceased when the crime could reportedly have been prevented had someone troubled themselves to get up, put on their hat and actually leave the police station.

I would suggest to the Commissioner of Police that he might want to investigate these claims and I would suggest to the relatives of the deceased that if he fails they should lay their own complaint.

I hope that after this incident no one will come to my office with tales of woe telling me that the police told them to get a lawyer. I hope so — but I doubt it.

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