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NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Folly of camouflage law


NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Folly of camouflage law

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IT WAS HEARTENING to read in the DAILY NATION of November 22 that some lawyers had expressed concern about a number of antiquated laws that should be removed from the statute books. They reasoned that the removal of these laws would reduce the number of nuisance cases that help to clog up the courts.

I am also concerned about some of these laws but for different reasons. My view is that the laws in question serve no useful purpose and their use only criminalises mostly young men. The result is that many of them end up with criminal records that, in some cases, prevent them from moving on in life.

One of the offences specifically mentioned was “the 1970s act that makes it a criminal offence to wear something as innocuous as a camouflage swimsuit”. Prosecuting people for wearing or possession of camouflage happens to be one of my pet peeves. 

I do not believe that wearing camouflage clothing is illegal. My view is that overzealous enforcement and misinterpretation of the statute by the authorities is responsible for people being convicted of wearing camouflage clothing, in some circumstances where it is not an offence.

In 1984 the Defence Act was amended to outlaw the wearing and possession of specific types of camouflage clothing or material. Section 188 (1) of the Defence Act states, in part:

(1) A person is guilty of an offence who

(b) wears without authority

(i) any uniform or part thereof, or any article of clothing made from any of the disruptive pattern materials used for making the military uniform commonly called “camouflage uniform” or from any other material so nearly resembling any of those materials as is likely to deceive, or

(ii) any uniform or part thereof worn by any military organisation of any country, whether in being or disbanded;

(c) has in his possession without authority (i) any uniform or part thereof, article of clothing or material mentioned in sub-paragraph (1) or (ii) of paragraph (b).

To my mind the statute is clear. It is an offence to wear clothing made from the type of camouflage material used by the Barbados Defence Force (BDF) or any material that closely resembles BDF issue. It is therefore inconceivable that the police would charge someone for wearing pink camouflage.

Since pink camouflage is not worn by the BDF, if a prosecutor wants to assert that it is worn by the military of some other country, evidence must be adduced from an accredited representative of the particular country. Failing that, the court would have convicted a person based solely on an unsubstantiated allegation.

Maybe the lawyers who expressed concern about these laws should have gone on to suggest that no accused person should be convicted of any offence without having a defence attorney, unless he opts to represent himself. 

It is unfair to have a trained professional prosecutor pitted against an accused person who does not have the skills to represent himself. I am convinced that Dodds Prison would have far fewer occupants if all accused persons had a right to an attorney.

There is no shortage of lawyers in this country and because of conditions similar to what can best be described as frontier justice, the time is ripe for Government to establish a public defenders department.

At present, Government grudgingly provides lawyers to people who are accused of serious offences like murder, manslaughter and rape. That is all well and good but what about people who are accused of lesser offences that attract terms of imprisonment? 

The liberty of a person is far too serious to be treated in such a cavalier manner in the 21st century and definitely not in this 50th year of the country’s Independence.

Caswell Franklyn is the general secretary of Unity Workers Union and a social commentator. Email: [email protected]