New twist to FUL renewal process as CoP asks for attorney’s records

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher – File photo by Roger Jacob

POLICE Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher has instructed her senior superintendents to report any difficulties their offices face in completing the renewal of firearm user’s licences (FULs).

However, a request by the commissioner for the FUL records for attorney Nyree Alfonso and her husband Towfeek Ali, both of whom are directors of the Firearms Training Institute, has incensed the attorney who said she is “deeply troubled” by the order as it appears. She said, she and her client, her husband, were being targeted for questioning the FUL renewal process.

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.

Alfonso challenged the process which, she maintained, introduced a new policy for those who had FULs before 2004. She called on the commissioner to hold her hand on the renewal policy.

On February 6, attorneys for the commissioner insisted she would not be retracting her position.

The commissioner’s attorneys rejected Alfonso’s interpretation of the law that FULs granted before 2004, remained valid and there was no need for them to submit a completed FUL form 1.

Allana Rivas, head of the police’s legal unit, said the CoP’s notices were nothing more than a reminder to all FUL holders that their FULs must be renewed. She also disagreed with Alfonso’s contention that the “new” process was unduly burdensome and akin to a fresh application for a FUL and was likely to “inevitably and deliberately create administrative chaos and unlawful delay.”

In her instruction to the senior superintendents of police, which Newsday obtained, Harewood-Christopher instructed them to provide reports detailing the difficulties faced by their offices which has prevented the completion of the FUL renewals.

The CoP’s instruction was dated February 14.

The senior officers were also instructed to identify the steps that were taken by their offices to receive and accept FUL applications and/or payment for renewal of licences after the proclamation of the amendment to the act in 2004; say if FUL holders, both before 2004 and after, submit applications for the renewal of their FULS or simply made payments; did FUL holders pay fees for renewals and did the police accept them.

On the latter question, the CoP also instructed her senior officers to say if the fees for renewals were made without applications being submitted; if there are records to identify the number of FUL holders who paid their fees, the period for which these fees were paid and accepted and if any of them were issued their FULs before 2004.

Harewood-Christopher also wants to know if renewed FULs were issued upon payment or if their holders kept their existing FULs; were receipts issued and if fees were paid for each FUL or each firearm listed on the permit.

These were questions asked by Alfonso in her letters to the commissioner. She also said many of her clients and other FUL holders have encountered difficulties in renewing their FULs in compliance with the requirements set out in the notices. Alfonso had given the CoP until February 13 to provide those answers as she questioned not only the fate of thousands of current FUL holders but also security companies and their precepted security personnel since they, too, would be affected.

However, it was the CoP’s request for the FUL records of FTI, Ali and Alfonso, including their licences and record of payments that drew the ire of the latter.

She said that request appeared to be a direct target on her for questioning the legality of the renewal process.

“If I am attempting to raise proper objections to a process and the response is to ask for my records, we have reached a new low in TT.”

She said she and her legal team disagreed with the CoP’s interpretation of the law and the requirements for the renewal of FUL and were prepared to have a higher forum (the court) determine the issue.

“I am an officer of the court. I am required to clarify and seek clarification on issues about law.”

She was adamant that this would not deter her from having the issue resolved.

The notices the commissioner issued advised of an amendment to the Finance Act to increase FUL renewal fees to $500 with effect from April 1.

The second notice, a reminder, also advised of a $500 fee and said it was separate from the annual renewal fee of $300 for each weapon. The notices warned of the risk of sanction, or revocation, of FULs if the requirements were not met by holders.

Firearm licence holders must also submit a certificate of competence issued by a registered firearm instructor, a medical certificate and a renewal application, all before April 1.