House passes Sexual Offences Bill

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Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC. Photo by Jeff Mayers

ATTORNEY General Reginald Armour SC said there must be continued vigilance to protect people in Trinidad and Tobago from becoming prey to sexual offenders. He said this while opening debate on the Sexual Offences Amendment Bill 2021 in the House of Representatives on Friday. The bill was subsequently unanimously passed by the House without amendments.

“Law does not operate in a vacuum.” Armour said the constitutional importance of sexual offences legislation goes back to 1986 when then prime minister George Chambers and then opposition leader Basdeo Panday agreed to its passage.

Armour opined this demonstrated a commitment by the entire society to address societal ills such as sexual offences and “to bring predators to account.” He reminded MPs that all laws are guided by the cultural, political and social conditions of the society which they are intended to operate in and to regulate.

Armour recalled a High Court judgement on a sexual offences matter in December 2020, which shows the continued problem posed by such crimes. Referring to a statement made by a girl who was the victim in that matter, Armour said she became pregnant twice , dropped out of school when she was 14 and never returned.

“These are not the words of a female in some isolated plantation or far away rural community in the 1940s Trinidad.” Armour added, “These are the words of a young female who resides in an urban community in Trinidad in the 21st century.”

He said the bill will amend the existing legislation to ensure that the commissioner of police updates the public sex offender website within three days, upon receiving information about a registered sex offender from an investigating police officer.

Armour said the CoP has the authority under the legislation to ensure the information on the website is accurate and placed there in a timely matter. He added this must be done “whilst acknowledging that person’s due process rights.”

Tabaquite MP Anita Haynes said while the Opposition supports the bill in principle, it remained concerned about its implementation. “We will not be part of a national mamaguy.”

Haynes questioned whether the national sex offenders register was working and the pace at which information is placed on the public sex offenders’ website.

Outside of legislation, Haynes believed there were non-legislative fixes which could be done to protect people against would-be sexual offenders. These included better street lighting and removal of bushes, especially in rural communities.

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