By Ria Taitt Political Editor

The courts will soon have the power to forfeit the property of gang members.

And persons found guilty of harbouring anyone who has committed a gang-related offence will be fined $150,000 or five years imprisonment.

As the Government moves to deal with gun and gang related crime, Minister in the Ministry of National Security, Subhas Panday, yesterday announced that legislation would be tabled in Parliament designed to deter gang-related criminal activity.

Speaking at yesterday’s post-Cabinet briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair, Panday detailed some of the provisions of the bill which would require a special majority in which the support of the Opposition and the Independent element in the Parliament would be required.

Any person who becomes a member of a gang or professes to be a gang member would be tried indictably (not called upon to plead) and given 20 years hard labour, he said.

And the penalty is harsher if the person is a police officer or a member of the protective services. Such a person who is found to be a gang member would be given 25 years hard labour, he said.

Any person who aids, abets or in any way assists in the commission of a gang-related crime will face a whopping $500,000 fine or imprisonment for 20 years.

“We want to deal with gang warfare in schools, so we are sending a message to those young gang members that anyone within 500 metres of a school, recruits to a gang a person whom he knows or suspects is a child, commits an offence and is liable to a fine on summary conviction to 15 years,” Panday said.

Panday said persons found with bullet-proof vests, firearms and ammunition for the benefit of a gang, would be fined $400,000 or serve 15 years hard labour.

Noting that many gangs were trying to recruit young people, he said anyone who harbours a person whom he knows or suspects is a child and a gang member would be on summary conviction be imprisoned for 15 years.

Because firearms are the preferred weapon for gang members, Panday said the Government intends to amend the Firearms Act, which would put the burden of proof on the accused. “The minute the police arrest you for possession of a firearm, you are deemed to be in possession of it, until you prove your innocence,” he said. “Dangerous times need serious legislation,” the Minister said, conceding that there was no precedent for this provision.

Panday also said the penalty for firearm offences would be increased: 20 years hard labour for possession of firearms, while there would be stiffer penalties for transferring, selling or importing it.

Panday said Government also intended to set the Firearms Appeal Board in place. “We don’t want anyone to be possessing firearms illegally…We don’t want you to say ‘I have an (illegal) firearm to protect myself’,” he said.

Previously if one was convicted for a domestic violence offence, their firearm was automatically taken away. Now the Commissioner of Police has a discretion in this regard, “because the kinds of offences that now constitute domestic violence, such as economic hardship”.

He said Government would also be amending the Bail Act so that if someone is charged with a gang-related offence there would be no bail for 120 days. “And if you are suspected of a gang-related offence, the police can arrest you and keep you in custody for up to five days without charging you,” Panday said. “The reason for that is that there are spikes in the crime at certain times of the week and the police need that power to protect persons from themselves and from other persons,” he said.

“We hope that all of us will be singing from the same hymn book which is to save this country,” he said, adding that Government would be talking with all the parties in the Parliament.

He said Government was particularly concerned with firearm and gang-related offences and it felt firm and decisive measures were required.