National Assembly To Debate Penalty Increase For Firearm-Related Offences, Gun Amnesty, And Protections For Witnesses And Jurors

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Basseterre, St. Kitts – The National Assembly is preparing for a crucial debate on two proposed amendments to existing legislation, and one new Bill, aimed at addressing the rising incidences of gun-related crimes and witness intimidation in the Federation.

As part of the Government’s multi-faceted effort to enhance public safety, on Thursday, May 09, 2024, Parliamentarians will debate the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, 2024, the Offences Against the Person (Amendment) Act, 2024, and the Justice Interference Prevention Bill, 2024, key elements of a comprehensive criminal justice reform project previously announced in November 2023.

The Firearms Act, Cap. 19.05, enacted in 1967 was last amended in 2017. It provides for a 15-year maximum penalty for firearm-related offences. The Offences Against the Person Act, Cap. 4.21, enacted in 1873, provides for a 10-year maximum sentence for shooting with intent to murder and, oddly, a 20-year maximum penalty for the lesser offence of shooting with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

The two gun-related amendments to be tabled and debated by Parliamentarians on Thursday propose that offences such as importation and possession of automatic weapons, as well as offences involving the use of firearms, should carry a maximum prison term of 40 years and a fine of EC$500,000. The Firearms (Amendment) Bill, 2024, also proposes that the maximum sentence for importation and possession of non-automatic weapons be increased from 15 years to 30 years with a maximum fine of EC$250,000.

The Bill also seeks to allow the Minister of National Security to declare a Gun Amnesty allowing persons to voluntarily surrender illegal firearms and ammunition without fear of prosecution during a specified amnesty period. Gun amnesties are currently in force in several countries including St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada.

Under the Offences Against the Person (Amendment) Bill, 2024, shooting with intent to murder is recommended to carry a significantly increased maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a fine of EC$500,000, whilst Parliamentarians will debate whether shooting with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, a lesser offence, should carry a penalty of 40 years imprisonment and a fine of EC$500,000.

The new Justice Interference Prevention Bill, 2024, seeks to introduce specific offences for witness, juror and other justice officer intimidation, threats, harm and bribery. Witnesses and jurors, in particular, play crucial roles in the criminal justice system, and protecting them from interference is essential for maintaining the integrity of legal proceedings and securing convictions.

As the National Assembly considers these amendments, St Kitts and Nevis faces a critical juncture in its efforts to enhance public safety and curb firearm-related violence.

Attorney General, the Honourable Garth Wilkin said that by tabling these Bills, the Government, in its effort to transform the Federation into a Sustainable Island State, is ensuring that no-nonsense laws are implemented to help deter gun-related crimes and protect the criminal justice system, both of which will contribute to public safety and stability.

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