Law changes will crack down on gang violence, seize property from criminals
Criminals face having their illegally gained property seized as part of law changes to crack down on gang violence.
Premier Paula Cox’s Throne Speech also pledged to increase fines for gang-related crimes, and restructure the Inter-Agency Gang Task Force to allow for better community involvement.
Offenders sentenced to less than two years will have to serve a minimum 12 months before being eligible for parole, following a shake-up of the Criminal Code Act, added the Premier.
And the level of punishment for drugs offences will soon depend more on what kind of drugs the offence involved.
Reading the Throne Speech on behalf of Government on Friday, Governor Sir Richard Gozney said: “Crime ranks closely behind the economy among Bermudians’ concerns.
“The way society deals with those who break the law is critical. In order to keep the trust and confidence of the people, your Government believes it must introduce measures to protect the public from violent and dangerous offenders.”
Sir Richard said the Proceeds of Crime Act 1997 and the Criminal Code Act 1907 will be amended to “allow the seizure of cash and property that are reasonably suspected to be the proceeds of crime”.
Earlier this year, the Proceeds of Crime Amendment Act 2011 meant defendants could be stripped of ill-gotten cash even when they haven’t been convicted of a criminal offence.
It’s thought further amendments will allow for civil forfeiture of ill-gotten gains such as cars, boats and jewellery.
Regarding fines for gang-related offences, the Throne Speech stated: “The Courts will also be allowed, in sentencing, to consider an additional financial penalty by way of a tariff where certain offences are committed in connection with unlawful gang activity.”
Ms Cox also underlined her intention to cut the possibility of prisoners reoffending while on parole.
“To mitigate the risk that an inmate granted parole will reoffend, legislation will be tabled to ensure that there is a more structured collaboration between Court Services and the Bermuda Police Service, mindful of the independence of the Parole Board,” said the Throne Speech.
“Reforms are also pending for the Criminal Code Act 1907 with the aim of ensuring that a person sentenced for a period of less than two years serves a minimum of 12 months before being eligible for parole; revising the minimum time served for life sentences before parole; and, permitting judicial discretion to be applied to reflect the circumstances of a crime.”
The Royal Gazette reported how Jahkiel Samuels and Prince Edness, two alleged leading members of Parkside, were granted early release from prison after the Parole Board weren’t told of their gang ties.
Both had been jailed for violent offences but are now back in the community on parole after serving just a third of their sentences behind bars.
They applied for release at the earliest available opportunity and were allowed out of Westgate by the Parole Board, whose legal advisor told this newspaper: “There was not a shred, not a single word, in the documents before us that mentioned anything about any gang affiliation for either of those.”
The Throne Speech also said Government knows the importance of trying to keep young people out of the prison system where possible.
“Incarceration should only be used where there is no other course of action, for example in cases where the seriousness of the offence, the history of the offender or the risk to the public is such that a prison sentence is warranted,” it stated.
“Government will introduce a new sentencing framework for young people including the establishment of a new classification of sanctions related to different types of drugs.”
Government launched its multi-agency Anti-Gang Task Force in 2010, which is soon to publish a report on how American anti-gang models could be copied in Bermuda.
The Throne Speech stated: “Based on their inputs, the Government intends to restructure the Inter-Agency Gang Task Force working groups so as to reflect their community roles.
“Other changes will see key civil servants appointed to lead the groups and the appointment of spokespersons at Ministerial level.
“The Government believes that the aims of the Inter-Agency Gang Task Force need the support of all sectors of the community to succeed.
“The Government will report on the progress of the Task Force and on the success of the Bermuda Ceasefire initiative in the coming months.”