Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher – File photo
POLICE Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher has been ordered to return to a Maraval contractor his firearm user’s licence (FUL) and two weapons after a third gun was stolen by a relative who shot himself with it in 2021. The relative died from his injuries.
On Wednesday, Justice Devindra Rampersad declared that the commissioner’s continued detention of the businessman’s FUL and the two weapons – a Winchester 12 gauge shotgun and Glock pistol – was unlawful, contrary to law, in breach of the principles of procedural fairness, unreasonable, irregular and an abuse of power.
He also declared that the refusal of the FUL and the weapons were also unlawful.
Rampersad quashed the top cop’s decision and ordered the return of the licence, guns and accompanying ammunition.
The commissioner was also ordered to pay the businessman’s costs of his judicial review application as well as the substantive proceedings.
The businessman has asked for his name not to be published because of the current crime situation in the country.
The weapons were seized by police in December 2021 as part of a police investigation.
His lawsuit said on August 30, last year, he took one of three firearms – another Glock pistol – with him when he and his family went to their vacation home down the islands “due to the remoteness of the location” and to “ensure his family’s safety.”
He said he took one of the two Glock pistols covered by the licence, first issued in 2001, which allowed him to possess the three weapons.
The businessman said the firearm was locked in a safe box at his vacation home. However, a relative broke into the safe box and shot himself.
The gun was seized by investigators from the Carenage Police Station and police also took his FUL to verify he was the holder of the licence.
Although they promised to return the FUL within one week, it was not.
The businessman was also told by police he had to lodge his other weapons and all ammunition since he could not keep them without his FUL.
One week later, when he asked about the return of the additional firearms, he was told the paperwork was still being proceeded and the police would get back to him.
His lawyers also wrote to the acting commissioner seeking information and asking for a return of the other two firearms.
He was told the FUL formed part of the investigation by the police and it would be returned when it was completed.
The court documents said that was the first time he was told the licence formed part of the police’s investigations since he had been told it was only to verify he was a valid licence holder and the FUL would have been returned to him within a week.
Almost a year after the weapons were seized, the police informed him that they were investigating possible breaches of the firearm regulations. He said this took him by surprise because at no time was he told was a suspect or under investigation for a specific offence.
In his ruling, Rampersad said, the commissioner did not identify any particular section under the Firearms Act which allowed her to seize and detain firearms licences or firearms when the former was neither suspended nor revoked.
He also said the commissioner failed to “demonstrate any degree of credibility” that there was an ongoing investigation of the businessman, his licence, firearms and ammunition.
In arguments before the judge, the police insisted that the businessman failed to properly secure his firearms in contravention of the conditions of the FUL since one of the weapons it covered was accessed by the relative who shot himself with it.
However, the judge said no charges had been laid and could not now be laid since it was statute-barred. He also said it appeared to be a new argument.
“There is no express power in the Firearms Act for the defendant to seize a person’s FUL for any reason.
“…If Parliament intended for the powers of seizure and retention to be invoked by the act, they would have made tailored provisions for such powers.
“Thus, the defendant should not be permitted to expand its jurisdictional ambit using the process of statutory implication.
“The defendant is suggesting that there is an implied power to be exercised in an unfettered and unsupervised manner.
“However, no cannon of construction would permit the arrogation onto an administrative offer of such a power as contended for by the defendants.”
The judge further noted that the police had ruled his relative’s death a suicide so there could not have been a homicide investigation.
“At no time during the initial lodging nor any time thereafter was the claimant notified that there was an ongoing investigation wherein he was a person of interest.”
In his ruling, Rampersad said it was “unfortunate” the commissioner herself did not depose to an affidavit to explain why she thought it necessary to detain the businessman’s licence and firearms.
“She said absolutely nothing about her thought process at all having failed to give any evidence,” the judge said, adding that he may have been willing to consider if there was a genuine reason for the commissioner’s decision.
Representing the businessman were attorneys Jagdeo Singh, Vashisht Seepersad and Savitri Samaroo while Naiomi Herbert, Michael Bissoondial and Chantal Fournillier represented the commissioner.