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EDITORIAL – December 14th. 2018

EDITORIAL – December 14th. 2018
December 14
10:39 2018

BY: Mr. Harry Lawrence

The Police Department announced last week that it had arrested and detained a group of senior public officers for what appeared to be contraband goods.

The announcement said the men would not be tried in open court, but the matter would be dealt with privately at a hearing for Public Officers.

Does this mean that public officers have hidden rights under the law which ordinary folks don’t have?

The Customs Regulations Act Chapter 49 – 96 (1) decrees that “all persons…who for the purpose of unshipping, carrying or concealing any uncustomed, prohibited or forfeited goods shall be guilty of an offence…”

The law does not give the Police the discretion to prosecute or not to prosecute. The Director of Public Prosecution has wide powers in deciding what, but not whom to prosecute. But she has no power to deny or defy the law.

Public Officers, and these include Ministers of the Government who break the law, should face prosecution in a court of law.

If it was the Director of Public Prosecution who made the call not to prosecute, she should issue a public statement explaining why she made that call. If she did not make this call, she should say so, because such a decision can reflect on her reputation as a law enforcement officer.

If it was the Police who made the call, then the Minister of Police should make a statement saying who authorized it.

If we are to be guided by the law, then the men so accused of having uncustomed goods should face prosecution in court. Administrative action can come after, but not before, a conviction.

The Police action in detaining a group of Belizeans at the contraband river crossing at Botes, the Mexican town on the northern bank of the Rio Hondo, was apparently a mistake, due to one over-conscientious but misguided police officer.

The southern half of the Rio Hondo which flows past Corozal and Orange Walk is Belizean waters. If a Belizean crosses over to the other side, into Mexican territory without the proper travel documents, he is in contravention of Mexican law, not Belize Law.

If he comes back over on to the Belize side, he does not need travel documents because he is in home waters – just as if he were out at sea.

This distinction needs to be explained to Police Officers who do duty in those parts.

Unfortunately there is not much that a detained person can do. The law of Public Order (Ch. 31) protects a police officer who makes a mistake in the performance of his duties. The procedure for civil action is set out in Chapter 31, but it is a blind alley that leads to nowhere.

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