CoP given till Tuesday to revoke stand on FULs being invalid

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Erla Harewood-Christopher – File photo by Roger Jacob

POLICE Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher has until February 6 to retract her position on renewals of firearm user’s licences (FULs).

On February 4, attorneys for firearms dealer Towfeek Ali and other FUL holders gave the ultimatum.

Ali is represented by attorneys Anand Beharrylal, KC, Kiel Taklalsingh and Ali’s wife, Nyree Alfonso, who are challenging the legality of the recent changes.

At the start of the year, the commissioner announced that all FUL holders had to renew their permits, including those who were issued FULs before 2004, when the Firearms Act was amended.

In response to a flurry of letters, attorneys for the commissioner asked until February 1 to respond.

They did so. However, Ali’s attorneys say the CoP’s lawyers failed to address key aspects of their complaints.

In her latest letter, Alfonso said the commissioner’s response was “nothing short of incredible,” since it suggests that existing FULs, except those issued less than three years ago, are no longer valid.

“We think it urgent and in the public interest to immediately register our concerns with regard to your assertion that the failure of firearm owners to renew their FULs since the said amendment came into force in the year 2004 automatically, and without more, renders the vast majority of existing FULs invalid. By the CoP’s logic, it appears that only FULs issued less than three years ago would still be valid.”

Alfonso said the police service has never enforced or implemented the new regime for renewals.

“We are certain that the commissioner appreciates that this stated position affects the men and women who have served in the TTPS and who are currently serving in the TTPS in two ways, namely, that there are officers in this grouping who are FUL holders and further, that certain officers would have believed that they lawfully assisted and abetted civilian FUL holders in retaining possession of their firearms and ammunition allocated therefor in the absence of a valid FUL.

“This state of affairs which the commissioner has now asserted also materially affects the operations of all security companies who employ precepted armed security officers.”

Alfonso maintains that Section 17(6) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act, which says FULs granted before the passage of the legislation in 2004 remain valid unless terminated or revoked.

However, Allanna Rivas, on behalf of the commissioner, disagreed with Alfonso’s interpretation of the act. She said it could not have intended to relieve pre-existing FUL holders from complying with the requirements for renewing FULs, nor did it provide a separate regime for them, leaving their licences indefinitely valid until revoked.

“The former section 17(6) is no longer law and therefore cannot properly be read together with section 17(8) or treated as continuing to permit FULs of indefinite duration.”

Rivas said had Parliament intended section 17(6) of the 2004 amended act to apply to pre-existing FUL holders, it would have expressly said so. She also said the effect of the legislation was that “all FULs have a life of three years and may be renewed.”

Rivas said the entire scheme of the act contemplated the “ strict regulation of the importation, sale, possession and use of all firearms…

“These statutory criteria must not only be met at the time of the grant of the licence but maintained by all FUL holders.

“The renewal of FULs on a three-year basis, as contemplated by section 17(6) of the act therefore promotes, supports and reinforces the commissioner’s regulation and oversight of FULs.”

Rivas also said the CoP’s notices were nothing more than a reminder to all FUL holders that their FULs must be renewed, and did not specify a year or date by which renewal should take place.

However, Alfonso told Rivas her assertions meant that “there are thousands of law-abiding citizens currently in possession of firearms and various quantities of ammunition, acquired and retained lawfully by way of compliance with the law /application processes mandated by the Office of the CoP for the purpose of obtaining legitimate FULs, but who are now in collective peril of criminal prosecution, and indeed incarceration, because the current incumbent of the Office of the CoP has unilaterally, without any process and indeed in defiance and denial of due process, deemed these FULs to be invalid.”

Alfonso also said since May 2004, the police have been accepting yearly fees, done inspections, approved variations of FULs and returned seized licences without any renewal regime or requirement. This, she maintained, prevents the commissioner from declaring existing FULs invalid.

“We must demand that the CoP forthwith fully retracts her stated position that all FULs which were not renewed in accordance with the 2004 amendment to the Firearms Act are now invalid.”