By K. Quincy Parker
Opposition Leader in the Senate Desmond Bannister attacked the Christie administration’s ongoing assertion that the institution of a five-year term limit for the police commissioner and deputy specifically abridged the Bahamian constitution and compromised the impartiality of the nation’s top cop.
Mr. Bannister also questioned the government’s choice to prioritise the issue of amending section 7 of the act, which deals with contract employment for the commissioner of police, when – as he put it – there are many unfulfilled promises for the PLP to deal with.
He pointed to the PLP campaign promise that within the first 100 days in office it would introduce a dedicated team of attorneys within the Office of the Attorney General to review all existing murder cases that are completed with the object of ensuring that all avenues of appeal are exhausted without delay.
Cases that are complete and warrant the death penalty shall be disposed of expeditiously.
“Bahamians hoped that they would follow the FNM example with respect to laws facilitating the imposition of the death penalty,” Mr. Bannister said.
“Perhaps, the honourable attorney general will advise us of the steps that have been taken to live up to that promise, and report to us on the results of this promised review. Bahamians are waiting in anticipation.”
“Instead, we are debating the contract of employment of the commissioner of police.”
Mr. Bannister pointed out that the PLP also promised to “immediately amend the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.”
“However, Acts are not amended while Parliament is on vacation, so unfortunately this will just be another unfulfilled promise by this PLP government while we debate the contract of employment of the Commissioner of Police,” he said.
On The Constitution
Mr. Bannister flatly denied the PLP charge that section 7 is unconstitutional, saying: “They have the numbers to win the vote, so, in this case might is right, but on the issue of constitutionality, they are dead wrong.”
He cited a Privy Council decision which addressed the security of tenure for police officers, and argued that the writing law lord “specifically exempted fixed term contracts, such as the ones that have been created pursuant to the provisions of section 7 of the Royal Bahamas Police Force Act from being considered as “removal” from office within the context of the Constitution.”
He cited extensively from the Bahamas Constitution, which offers the commissioner and deputy commissioner limited protection, and makes a distinct difference between the tenure of service of the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, which is not protected, and that of Judges, which is.
In short, Mr. Bannister argued that the commissioner of police “has no constitutionally protected length of tenure in office.”
“The 2009 Police Force Act explicitly recognizes the overriding provisions of the Constitution. Hence, there is no sound legal basis for the argument that the Act removes the constitutional guarantee of security of tenure for the Commissioner of Police,” he said. “The Commissioner of Police can still only be removed from office against his will for cause in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.”
Mr. Bannister said the provisions of Section 7 made the two top officers of the police force accountable for the force for a specific period of time.
“We joined progressive jurisdictions such as Australia, New Zealand, the London Metropolitan Police and New Scotland Yard as well as our sister country of Jamaica in creating fixed term posts for our top police leaders,” he said.
“This government is taking a very irresponsible action. You see, after this amendment takes effect, every Commissioner of Police will essentially be appointed to office for life, no matter how lazy, ineffective, inadequate or incompetent he may be, and I pause here, to say that I am not referring to the current Commissioner with my comments. However, the pertinent question is whether this is what we want for a modern Bahamas.”
A Historical Perspective
In 2007, the PLP administration repealed the Police Act, and passed the Police Service Act, 2007, but never brought it into force. Mr. Bannister asserted that the Police Services Act was “deficient in many respects,” which led the FNM to repeal the entire act and replace it with the 2009 Police Force Act.
Mr. Bannister cited sections of the Police Services Act that would have allowed the commissioner to require any police officer to retire at age 50, and with the minister’s permission, at 45.
Turning the tables somewhat, Mr. Bannister asserted that these provisions were themselves “entirely unconstitutional.”
“You see, Article 121 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas provides that the only officers over whom the Commissioner of Police has the power of removal are officers below the rank of Inspector, i.e. Sergeants, Corporals and Constables,” he said.
Mr. Bannister spoke to the consultation that preceded the passage of the 2009 Police Force Act.
“Interestingly enough,” he said, “the then Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police, who now serves as Commissioner, submitted his observations in writing prior to the Bill being enacted into law. That two page letter made no reference to section 7 of the Act. The Police Staff Association also put their concerns in writing. Again, no reference was made to the provisions of section 7 of the Act.”
“I submit that nobody except the PLP raised any concerns with respect to the provisions of section 7, because they all recognised how progressive the Bill is, and they also recognised the fact that claims of unconstitutionality with respect to section 7 made by the PLP were totally unfounded.”