Opposition Senator Raises Alarm Over Summary Jurisdiction and Criminal Code Bill Amendments

Opposition Senator Raises Alarm Over Summary Jurisdiction and Criminal Code Bill Amendments

The first Senate meeting was called to order today despite a pushback from the opposition.  In today’s session, several Bill amendments were reviewed, discussed and debated.  Among that list are the Summary Jurisdiction Bill as well as the Criminal Code Bill.  For the most part, all Senators agreed that harsher penalties need to be put in place for the use of threatening words, particularly towards law-enforcement officers.  There was the concern, however, that the Bill would be used without discretion.  Expressing those concerns was the Lead Opposition Senator, Michael Peyrefitte.

Michael Peyrefitte, Opposition Senator: “I have great issue with the summary jurisdiction amendment. If you read it carefully, Madam President, what this is saying pretty much is that I don’t even have to threaten a public officer. I don’t even have to threaten a peace officer. All that peace officer has to do is determine that what I say, as well in my own yard, amongst my friends, drinking rum, that I can go to jail for that. And that, Madam President, is what I find completely and utterly unacceptable. I don’t even have to be threatening the officers listed here. I don’t even have to be threatening them. They could just be in their presence or I could just be in their presence rather, they’re on duty, pass my house, hear me in my yard using what they interpret to be indecent language and I can go to jail for three years for that?  Madam President, I don’t know about the public but I cuss bad word. I cuss a lot of bad word privately with my friends and when we’re hanging out and we talk a lot of things that might be interpreted as indecent, in a friendly environment. You can go to jail for that now, madam president ?  This is what it’s saying. Such several offenses being committed in a street or public place or in a private enclosure or ground whether directly or within the hearing of the list – elected official. I think they are accustomed to hearing things indecent, Madam President- commits an offense ? I don’t want to belabor the point, Madam President, and I don’t want to make light of it but what this law is saying is if I’m having a barbecue in my yard and a police officer or somebody else on duty is patrolling my area and we are talk, and we are cussing bad words, and we are hanging out, and we are talking in our yard the policeman hears that- because it says whether or not my indecent or obscene words are calculated to cause a breach of the peace or not. So it’s not like, I’m in my yard and me and another person are fighting or cursing each other about to start no, no, no it’s not like that. “Whether to cause a breach of peace or not,” which means it could be a completely friendly environment, a completely peaceful environment but hey I just passed your yard, I heard you all cuss no man you’re under arrest because that’s very indecent what you just said. Madam President, it comes down to that the way this is written. The way this is written it comes down to that and that, Madam President, is unacceptable. You better lock up me now. You better lock up half of Belize now.”

Contributing to the discussion was Senator for the private sector, Kevin Herrera.  While he did not present any opposition to the amendments, he did speak on elements he says should have been included in the Bill.

Kevin Herrera, Senator, Business Community: “I think some of our students who go to school suffer tremendous abuse on the streets by persons, by adults, and I’m talking about students underage. Perhaps there should have been a category that should have been considered in this bill. I think that we see it all the time, we hear about it all the time. Minors being abused, abused on their way to school by adults, in many cases men. And I think that’s certainly an area I think that we maybe could have included in here to try to address that. As well, Madam President, looking at the vulnerable again, the elderly I think face quite a bit of abuse. And I know that the purpose of the bill is to look at categories of persons who are performing important duties and functions on behalf of the state but those are two vulnerable groups that I think certainly need more protection and perhaps if not in this bill perhaps in the near term we should look at them. I think education is so key in this country that we should try to protect those who are like teachers who are carrying out the functions of imparting the knowledge but also for the future of this country in terms of the students I think we need to protect them a lot more than we are doing right now and I know that they go through a tremendous amount of abuse on their way to and from school.”

Responding to Senator Peyrefitte’s concerns was the Senator for Government Business, Eamon Courtenay.  Essentially, Courtenay explained Peyrefitte was misguided in his interpretation of the amendments to the bill.

Eamon Courtenay, Government Senator: “The law today says if you use to any person, any person, in the hearing of any person any threatening, abusive, profane, obscene, indecent, insulting words or behavior, whether calculated to lead to a breach of the peace or not, so several offenses being committed in a street or public place or in a private enclosure or ground is guilty of an offense. What Senator Peyrefitte described, his example of having a barbecue, drinking with his friends, behaving the way he usually behaves he would be guilty of an offense today. Now let us look at what the bill proposes to do, Madam President. It says, first of all, we are going to repeal the provision that I just read. Now look at what the proposal says. “A person who uses any threatening, abusive, profane, obscene, indecent, or insulting words or behavior -which is what is in the law at the moment – whether calculated to lead to a breach of the peace or not – which is in the law at present – such several offenses being committed in a street or public place or in a private enclosure or ground – which is what is in the law at the moment – whether directly or within the hearing of. Now recall what I read. The law as it stands today does not have any category, does not have any class. It says anybody who does these things and anybody hear it anywhere it’s an offense. There is now these limiting words. If you do it within the hearing of a person acting as a judicial officer, and legal officer, or a peace officer. So, it has to be not a police officer walking down the road he has to be performing his functions and this happens then an offense is committed. And look at the rest of them, “a member of the Belize Defense Force in the course of his duty, Coast Guard in the course of his duty, Immigration Officer in the course of his duty and it continues custom officer, national affairs service, public officer, prison officer, teacher, member of the media and then we can discuss elected officials. So this is limiting the provision that is on the books today and saying when these public officers, whether they be police, BDF, Coast Guard, a judge, etc., are performing their functions, it is an offense to hurl offensive, abusive, insulting words or to conduct yourself in such a way. It is seeking to address a problem, a mischief that we have where immigration officers or police officers conduct searches and they are being abused by people in the course of their duty not walking down when you’re having a barbecue and so madam president I want to say to honorable senators that this is reducing the scope of what is actually on the books of the law books of the country today it is only applicable where the person is in the course of his or her duty.”

The other bills presented in the Senate are the Accreditation Council Bill, the National Women’s Commission Bill, and the Education and Training Bill, among others.  //////

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