St Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Debate on the Firearms Amendment Bill 2017 continued in parliament at news time Wednesday (June 14). It seeks to increase the maximum penalty from 10 to 15 years for gun crimes. Senator Wendy Phipps in support of the bill on Tuesday (June 13) drew attention to the burden being placed on the public health system.
“The use of the ambulance, the A&E department’s preoccupation with victims of gun violence, at the expense of other perhaps less critical patients seeking care, medication, hospitalization, lab tests and the depletion of our precious blood reserves. In a number of these cases the patients of gun violence are ill equipped to settle their bills with the hospital, although the cost of their care can often be astronomical. Add to this the general feeling of fear and discomfort among our institution based health workers, who must render care to victims of gun violence who may still be the target of future assaults even within the walls of the hospital. The situation is even worse Mr Speaker, when such victims of gun violence are known or suspected criminals themselves.”
She noted that crime has no winners.
“We are well aware that crime of any kind results in no winners, neither the victims nor the perpetrators benefit in the long run. The families of perpetrators of gun violence are often equally vulnerable as the victims and their families, in both cases intervention is required. This ranges from counselling services, mentorship for young family members, diversion programmes to prevent entry into a life of crime, public assistance to meet everyday cost of living and also life skills training to assist individuals with coping with everyday challenges instead of resorting to anti-social and criminal behaviour.”
Senator Phipps also reported on efforts underway to respond to the crisis.
Opposition parliamentarian and former Attorney General, Patrice Nisbett, while debating the Firearms Bill, argued that criminals now seem confident in their actions.
“Criminals in this day and age, they seem confident that their victims have neither the means nor the legal right to resist them. As it stands now, law abiding citizens are left to the mercy of the criminal, and so if it is that, increased penalties are going to make the citizens feel more protected from the practices of the bandit and so they will no longer be in a situation of silence and trepidation, well so be it, but we shall see as to whether this in fact will transpire.”
He said the increased penalties at the magistrate court will push people to take their chances at the high court and that approach could drag out cases and delay justice.
“I suspect that with the increased jurisdiction that has been given to our magistrates, the lower judiciary, when this bill is passed they can now sentence people up to 15 years in jail. I have some unease about that, because they lack the necessary protection, they lack the necessary lack of safeguards, the necessary security of tenure that is in place for our higher magistrates, they don’t have the security like high court judges, they don’t and that is a constitutional fact. Most people, what they are going to do is take their chances now in the high court because the punishment at the magistrate level and the high court level is basically the same and it is going to mean that you are going to have more cases of this being tried in the high court and with more cases you get more delays, you get more backlogs you don’t get the swift justice that you expect Mr Speaker. So this is a matter that one has to carefully monitor and look at and especially if they do high court trials, we still have preliminary inquiries in place.”
He suggested that it might be time for a review of the preliminary trial process. Mr Nisbett also raised the issue of the security of witnesses and bemoaned the low detection rate of gun crimes.
“To deter crime you must have persons who are prepared to make the necessary reports, willing to give evidence in the matter and we have had situations where people are indeed afraid, where people are indeed are scared, they are reluctant to come to court and give evidence in matters. So you may have a stiffer penalty on the books but you don’t have the evidence in the support of a particular charge.”