The Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago yesterday expressed “deep concern” over recent reports that members of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force were executing what appeared to be search and entry exercises into the private property of citizens and were attempting to effect arrests of citizens.
In a release signed by president Seenath Jairam SC, the association emphasised that save in limited circumstances of “the obvious commission or likely commission of a breach of the peace”, only members of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service have the power, under the Police Service Act Chapter 15:01, to legitimately carry out the search, seizure and arrest of any person.
The Defence Force is governed by the Defence Act Chapter 14:01, of the Laws of Trinidad and Tobago, it said.
“This Act does not grant unto any member of the Defence Force any power to execute searches, seizure or arrest of civilians. It also does not grant the power to investigate any suspicion or allegations of criminal activity by a civilian,” the association stated.
The Law Association said it supported any and all legitimate efforts to combat the surge of crime. But, it stressed, “such efforts must be conducted within the confines of the Laws of Trinidad and Tobago and with due respect for the Rule of Law and the constitutional rights of persons”.
The association said any search, seizure or arrest of civilians executed by members of the Defence Force can only be legally done on the instruction of a police officer, failing which no member of the Defence Force has the jurisdiction and/or authority to carry out same.
“Any purported search, seizure and/or arrest of a civilian by a member of the Defence Force without being so instructed is therefore unlawful,” it said.
In the interest of transparency and recognition of the fundamental rights of individuals, the association urged that a proper and urgent investigation be conducted into recent allegations of abuse of citizens. The association underscored that these steps were necessary to ensure that the constitutional rights of citizens were being preserved, even as innovative methods were being utilised to combat the scourge of crime.
The Law Association called for deeper collaboration between the Defence Force and Police Service and the refinement of and adherence to clear protocols to guide joint patrols and searches, arrests and detentions.