Gun dealer, others get green light to challenge FUL renewal policy

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher. – File photo by Lincoln Holder

CHAGUANAS gun dealer Towfeek Ali and five others have been permitted to review an alleged new policy for renewing firearm user’s licences (FULs).

Justice Ricky Rahim granted leave to Ali, Hassan Ali, Azad Ali, Rajiv Maharaj, Navindra Ramjattan and Anita Latchman to pursue their challenge of the decision of Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher to deem invalid FULs which were not renewed during the period 2004-2024.

The judge did so despite a request by attorneys for the commissioner for a rolled-up hearing.

He also left it up to the attorneys to sort out an undertaking by the commissioner on the interim relief the six are seeking.

Senior Counsel Rishi Dass, who represents the commissioner, said his client had all but agreed to one of the interim reliefs sought, but could not get firm instructions on that last issue, since Harewood-Christopher had gone into a meeting just before the hearing. Dass did not identify the issue still to be finalised.

In addition to an injunction to prevent the commissioner from taking steps to initiate criminal prosecution against affected FUL holders or seize their licences or firearms until the matter is resolved, the six also asked for an order that those FULs in existence before January 2024 which were not previously renewed are still valid until the court determines the matter.

The matter is expected to come up for hearing on May 2, to update the judge on the interim relief agreement. He has also ordered both sides to put forward their arguments in writing.

In their leave application, Ali and the others said the decision by the CoP potentially exposed thousands of FUL holders to criminal prosecution.

It also complained that the new system, announced in January, was impossible and difficult to comply with.

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

The leave application said in February, a letter from the CoP conveyed that FUL holders were in “deliberate non-compliance with the renewal regime.”

The application also said in 2004, Parliament introduced a renewal process for FUL holders to renew their licences every three years,

However, the six said the process provided no guidance on how this was to be done. The application further contended that for the first time, the CoP put forward the position that those who had failed to renew their FULs since 2004 no longer held valid licences.

“The effect of this finding is that the Firearms Act makes it a criminal offence to possess firearms without a valid licence and the intended defendant’s position would make thousands of persons liable to criminal prosecution including security guards assigned to protect government buildings/assets as well as private property.”

The application also said if those FULs have been deemed invalid since 2007, then holders of licences before 2004, and those who received permits before 2021, would now need to make fresh applications, since they cannot renew something that has become invalid.

However, the six contended that Section 17(6) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act states that FULs granted before the passage of the legislation in 2004 will remain valid unless terminated or revoked.

Ali and the others are represented by Anand Beharrylal, KC, Kiel Taklalsingh, Nyree Alfonso and Asif Hosein-Shah.

Appearing with Dass are Vanessa Gopaul and Anya Ramute-Mohan.