FRIDAY, APRIL 13: A criminal lawyer yesterday warned that new legislation to strip suspected crooks of property thought to be the proceeds of crime would have to be used carefully.
Barrister Mark Pettingill said: “What concerns me is the constitutionality of it – you’re taking a decision without necessarily having a full and good evidential basis.
“If they go ahead with it, they will have to be very careful about how they go about it. Anything can be open to abuse – we have to ensure it’s used very, very carefully.
“I’m very big on due process – if it conforms with constitutional provisions and with that law, that’s fine.
“But when it comes to criminality, people still have to have a trial and be convicted beyond a reasonable doubt. It tends to smack of punishment, something punitive, without that.
“I understand why people might want this, but it has to be done very carefully. Anything done on suspicion must be of concern to a lawyer.”
Mr Pettingill was speaking after National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief announced he would today table amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Act allowing police to seize “bling” – jewellery, cars and boats – from suspected drug dealers, money-launderers and other criminals.
Mr Perinchief said: “We must take away the proceeds of crime – the glitter, the glamour, the bling. Too many young people are involved in crime for the cars and the cash.
“We have turned a blind eye as to where the BMW came from and why and 18-year-old woman has the money to buy the BMW – people are being corrupted and take illicit income.”
He added: “As I have indicated previously, a focus on the proceeds of crime is one essential element of disrupting the rhythm of those who would use criminal activity as a way of life.
“Legislation that deals with the seizure of personal property that is the proceeds of crime will be tabled. This keeps the Government’s promise to ensure that crime does not pay.”
And Mr Perinchief – tipped to go to the Senate when he retires from the House of Assembly before the next General Election - added that other legislation was in the pipeline to support police in their battle against career criminals like gang members and to help keep Bermuda safe.
The legislation allows police to seize property even without a criminal conviction if they believe the items were brought with dirty money.
But Mr Perinchief said that – if there is insufficient evidence to proceed – property would be returned and those affected could petition the courts for the return of the goods – providing they can prove they were obtained honestly.
He added the proposed new legislation was part of a “carrot and stick” approach to fighting crime in Bermuda – with support for ways to keep young people from falling into crime a vital part of the process.
Mr Perinchief said that Commissioner of Police Michael DeSilva had said that the island could not “arrest its way out of this problem.”
The Minister added: “He is correct – enforcement activity is the last line of defence against anti-social behaviour and the serious crime in this community.”
And he called for Bermudians to unite to tackle crime problems in the home and support teachers dealing with the same issues in the classroom.
And he said those profiting second-hand from crime should make a stand and refuse to accept dirty money.
Mr Perinchief said: “Handcuffs and imprisonment cannot be the first resort of a peace-loving community. That means that the real solutions to the issues that confront us lie elsewhere.
“If you are receiving drug money – stop. Tell your drug-dealing relative or friend you don’t want their dirty money.
“If you are receiving stolen goods – stop. Tell the thief you are not interested in profiting from somebody’s misery.
“If you are engaging in a behaviour that is counter-productive to the success of your community and our country – stop.”
Mr Perinchief it was common to hear people say that the police know who the gangsters are and they should take them down in a show of force.
But he said: “One of the troubling aspects of some of the recent happenings is that the suspects are not in fact known to the police.
“They do not figure in any gang intelligence and have not attracted the attention of the police prior to their involvement in a serious crime.
“That is not a failure of the police, but it is our failure as members of a wider community. We must look inside our own homes and open our eyes to what is going on. There are signs which we must accept indicate that our son or daughter is not keeping the right company, is engaged in the drug trade or is participating in some stage of criminal behaviour.”
Mr Perinchief added: “In too many instances, the common thread of victim and perpetrator is some illicit activity that unwittingly makes one a target and fuels the aggression of the other.
“An analysis of many of these serious attacks indicates that random attacks are incredibly rare. This means that we must tell our young people that their involvement in this destructive lifestyle makes them targets. The cycle can only be broken if we prevent lifestyle choices that lead to serious crime.”