The Caswell Franklyn Column – Frontier Justice in Barbados
It was heartening to read the Daily Nation of November 22, 2016 to see that some lawyers had expressed concern about a number of antiquated laws that should be removed from the statute books. They reasoned that the removal of these laws would reduce the number of nuisance cases that helps to clog up the courts.
I am also concerned about some of these laws but for different reasons. My view is that the laws in question serve no useful purpose and their use only criminalises mostly young men. The result is that many of them end up with criminal records that, in some cases, prevent them from moving on in life.
One of the offences specifically mentioned was “the 1970s act that makes it a criminal offence to wear something as innocuous as a camouflage swimsuit”. Prosecuting persons for wearing or possession of camouflage happens to be one of my pet peeves. I do not believe that wearing of all types of camouflage clothing is illegal. My view is that overzealous enforcement and misinterpretation of the statute by the authorities, including magistrates, is responsible for many persons being convicted for wearing camouflage clothing, in some circumstances where it is not an offence.
In 1984 the Defence Act was amended to outlaw the wearing and possession of specific types of camouflage clothing or material. Section 188.(1) of the Defence Act states, in part:
188.(1) A person is guilty of an offence who
(b) wears without authority
(i) any uniform or part thereof, or any article of clothing made from any of the disruptive pattern materials used for making the military uniform commonly called “camouflage uniform” or from any other material so nearly resembling any of those materials as is likely to deceive, or
(ii) any uniform or part thereof worn by any military organisation of any country, whether in being or disbanded;
(c) has in his possession without authority
(i) any uniform or part thereof, article of clothing or material mentioned in sub-paragraph (1) or (ii) of paragraph (b).
To my mind the statute is clear. It is an offence to wear clothing made from the type of camouflage material used by the Barbados Defence Force or any material that closely resembles BDF issue. It is therefore inconceivable that the Police would charge someone for wearing pink camouflage and, for me, incredulous to accept that a learned magistrate would convict an accused in such a case.
Since pink camouflage is not worn by the BDF, if a prosecutor wants to assert that it is worn by military of some other country, evidence must be adduced from an accredited representative of the particular country. Failing that, the court would have convicted a person based solely on an unsubstantiated allegation.
Maybe, the lawyers, who expressed concern about these laws, should have gone on to suggest that no accused person should be convicted of any offence without having a defence attorney, unless he opts to represent himself. To my mind, it is unfair to have a trained, professional prosecutor pitted against an accused person, who does not have the skills to represent himself. I am convinced that Dodds prison would have far less occupants if accused persons had a right to an attorney-at-law. There is no shortage of lawyers in this country and because of conditions similar to what can best be described as frontier justice, time is ripe for Government to establish a public defenders department.
At present, Government grudgingly provides lawyers to persons who are accused of serious offences like murder, manslaughter and rape. That is all well and good but what about persons who are accused of lesser offences which attract terms of imprisonment. The liberty of a person is far too serious to be treated in such a cavalier manner in the twenty-first century and definitely not in this fiftieth year of this country’s Independence.