New AG: Debate on cannabis policy now a priority

  • Back to Basics: Attorney General Mark Pettingill sets off on his pedal bike which he is using instead of a GP car. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

    Back to Basics: Attorney General Mark Pettingill sets off on his pedal bike which he is using instead of a GP car. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

  • Attorney General Mark Pettingill (Photo by Akil Simmons) January 4,2012

    Attorney General Mark Pettingill (Photo by Akil Simmons) January 4,2012

Modernisation of CCTV depends on funding Pettingill

New Attorney General Mark Pettingill is keen for Government to invest in technology such as CCTV cameras and ShotSpotter a system that uses a network of acoustic sensors to detect gunfire and alert the emergency services.
“The use of technology to make people safer is key,” said Mr Pettingill, who also backs electronic tagging for criminals.
“I recently sat in on a trial at the Old Bailey [London’s central criminal court] that documented the crime from the purchase of the weapon to the route taken there by the culprits, to the route of escape.
“It played out in the courtroom like a movie and they had high-resolution footage of the clothing worn. It was incredible and that’s the way the modern world is working.”
While keen to invest in such technology, Mr Pettingill added: “We need to make sure we get value for money.”

A Parliamentary debate about reforming Bermuda’s drug laws and a publicly-accessible sex offenders’ register — those are just two of the priorities listed by new Attorney General (AG) Mark Pettingill.

Mr Pettingill has previously commented in Parliament that it’s time for the Island to “get real” and acknowledge that just as many people smoke marijuana as drink alcohol.

Asked whether he will be moving towards decriminalising cannabis now he is AG, he replied: “When I say ‘get real’ that doesn’t necessarily mean making fundamental changes but we have to have some review of the legal position as it relates particularly to marijuana.”

He noted that there is currently a cautioning policy in place for small amounts of cannabis for personal use, but this is not enshrined in law.

“This is really turning a blind eye rather than legalising it and having things defined in law is good — otherwise you can ask why is one person being prosecuted and someone else not.”

Pressed for his personal view on decriminalising cannabis, he replied that he could “argue both ends” of the question, adding: “I think the view is that we need to have a fully-fledged Parliamentary debate as it relates to the issue.”

The One Bermuda Alliance pledged during the election campaign that it would institute a register of sex offenders that the public can access.

Calls have been made by the Coalition for the Protection of Children for such a register.

Mr Pettingill, a 48-year-old father of four, said: “The details of a publicly-available register are at a conceptual stage.

“Sex offences are a serious problem in this country — they wreck people’s lives and lead to people who are victims becoming criminals.

“I think people have a right to know who those types of offenders are among us.

“Children are the most vulnerable people in society and they need our protection.”

Mr Pettingill also plans action to make sure those suffering from mental illnesses are dealt with better by the criminal justice system.

Earlier this week, Senior Magistrate Archibald Warner lamented the courts’ limited powers under the law to deal with defendants who are mentally ill.

“We’ve been asking for a secure area for mentally ill patients for years and we haven’t got that,” he noted.

The issue previously hit the headlines in the case of Lorenzo Robinson, who committed suicide while incarcerated at Westgate in 2008.

The 28-year-old paranoid schizophrenic had battled in vain for six years to secure the specialist overseas treatment that experts said he needed.

Mr Pettingill said: “In my former life as a defence attorney, this is something I raised concerns about.

“It’s an area we have to look at. I agree with the Learned Magistrate. These are things we have to take on board and bring in line with other jurisdictions. I’m well aware that we don’t have the proper facility and it creates difficulties.”

Mr Pettingill is also in the process of reviewing every existing Government contract, and said those examined so far have prompted concerns, although he would not specify what.

He also plans a review of criminal legislation.

“For a long time, I have been saying it needs to be streamlined. It’s too all over the place and in the Criminal Code we still have some offences left over from the 19th century,” he noted.

Mr Pettingill founded the law firm Charter Chambers last year, together with Marc Daniels, who was recently appointed as an Oppostion Senator.

Prior to that, Mr Pettingill — who was Called to the Bar in 1991 — worked in various capacities including Crown counsel, Defence Attorney and Acting Magistrate.

He said he will take a “leave of absence” from private practice as a lawyer in order to serve full time as Attorney General.

“It’s a considerable pay cut for me but I would encourage other people to do the same — it’s about Bermuda,” he said, explaining that he feels “honoured” and “euphoric” about being given the position.

Mr Pettingill intends to encourage “accomplished and experienced” colleagues from the Bar to do the same and help fill a number of vacant positions within the Attorney General’s Chambers.

“Give us three years of service, even though I appreciate it takes a pay cut,” he urged.

“I don’t have a Government car and I ride my pedal bike to work and will continue to do that.

“I find it grossly offensive when the country is struggling to see people driving around in swanky cars, although if the US Attorney General comes to visit I am not going to pick him up from the airport on my bike.”

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Published Jan 5, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 4, 2013 at 10:36 pm)

New AG: Debate on cannabis policy now a priority

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