The 1976 Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago (as amended through 2000) recognises fundamental human rights and freedoms, including
the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law[.]S. 4(a), 1976 Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago (as amended through 2000).
The freedom of assembly is guaranteed by the Constitution.
The Constitution established the Police Service Commission to "exercise disciplinary control" over law enforcement officers and "to enforce standards of conduct on such officers".S. 123, 1976 Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago (as amended through 2000).
|1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||State Party|
|ICCPR Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1984 Convention against Torture (CAT)||Not party|
|Competence of CAT Committee to receive individual complaints||N/A|
|CAT Optional Protocol 1||N/A|
|1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court||State Party|
|1948 Charter of the Organization of American States||State Party|
|1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights||Not party*|
|Competence of Inter-American Court on Human Rights||N/A|
* Trinidad and Tobago withdrew from the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights in 1999 (but the withdrawal does not apply to cases that resulted from facts prior to this date).
Police Use of Force
Trinidad and Tobago does not specifically regulate police use of force in national legislation. According to Section 4(1) of the 1979 Criminal Law Act:
A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.
The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service declares that its officers will "protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the rights of all persons." The use of force policy for the Police Service has not been made public. In June 2017, it was reported that the Service was in the process of reviewing its policy to allow for the implementation of non-lethal weapons.
In October 2017, Inspector Kazim Ali of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service’s Legal Department publicly urged all police officers to “use force as necessary” when confronted by "unruly people". Inspector Ali said that under the Criminal Offences Act, officers are entitled to defend themselves when attacked by people in the execution of their duties.
Use of Force in Custodial Settings
Legislation on use of force in prisons allows firearms to be used to prevent escape, even if the escapee is unarmed. Under Section 13 of the 1901 Prisons Act (as amended):
For the purpose of preventing escape or violent assault, and for the purpose of preventing or suppressing mutiny, any officer having charge of any prisoners may use firearms or any other mode of force, and shall not be responsible for the consequences of the use, if necessary for any of the purposes mentioned above.
The Police Complaints Authority of Trinidad and Tobago is an independent body for members of the public to submit complaints against police officers with a view to curbing the use of unnecessary force by the police service in the conduct of their work. It was established by the 2006 Police Complaints Authority Act (as amended through 2011).
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2018 List of Issues for reporting by Trinidad and Tobago, the Human Rights Committee stated as follows:
With reference to the Committee’s previous concluding observations (CCPR/CO/70/TTO, para. 14) please indicate the progress made to: (a) address concerns about the police force’s alleged brutality and abuse of power, and obstacles placed in the way of police personnel and witnesses who seek to correct such practices; (b) investigate and prosecute police officers responsible for, inter alia, harassment and battery; and (c) improve the collaboration between the Police Complaints Division and the Police Complaints Authority to allow them to effectively and efficiently fulfil their statutory functions to investigate complaints concerning violations of articles 7 and 9 (1) of the Covenant. Please provide information on the allegations that the police force is responsible for summary executions and the alleged failure of law enforcement bodies to reduce the high murder rate in the State party.
Soogrim v. Trinidad and Tobago (1993)
In this case, the Human Rights Committee recalled that the author of the complaint had claimed that
following his arrest on 7 September 1978, he was taken to a police station, where he was subjected to beatings and physical abuse and forced to sign a statement placing him on the scene of the murder. On 11 September, he complained about this treatment before the Magistrate's Court and a medical examination was ordered. The examination apparently was inconclusive, showing minor injuries that also could have been inflicted by the author himself. The issue was also raised before the court of first instance and on appeal. Some passages of the summing-up by the judge presiding over the retrial describe the nature of the psychological pressure and degrading treatment to which the author was allegedly subjected to in custody.Human Rights Committee, Soogrim v. Trinidad and Tobago, 1993, §3.2.
The author further complained of inhuman and degrading treatment suffered since February 1987 in the State Prison of Port of Spain:
On 2 February 1987 and again on 21 September 1988, he was allegedly beaten by prison warders and, on another occasion, left naked in a cold cell fortwo weeks. His complaints to the prison authorities were not followed up. He identifies the warders and prison officials whom he holds responsible for his continuously deteriorating state of health. In this context, he indicates that the virtually complete lack of exercise and sunlight in the prison has caused arthritis in his joints: furthermore, his eyesight has deteriorated during more than 10 years on death row, so that the prison doctor referred him to an eye clinic. The Commissioner of Prisons, however, informed him that there was no money for such medical treatment and that in any case he was in prison to die.Human Rights Committee, Soogrim v. Trinidad and Tobago, 1993, §3.4.
The Committee was of the view that a violation of Article 7 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had occurred, "in so far as the author was beaten by prison warders on several occasions".Human Rights Committee, Soogrim v. Trinidad and Tobago, 1993, §14.
Caesar v. Trinidad and Tobago (2005)
In this case, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held that a state party to the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR)
is under an obligation erga omnes to abstain from imposing corporal punishment, as well as to prevent their administration, for constituting, in any circumstance, a cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), Caesar v. Trinidad and Tobago, Judgment, 11 March 2005, §70.
The judgment concerned facts that occurred prior to Trinidad and Tobago's denunciation of the ACHR.
In early May 2018, Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams ordered an investigation into a shooting incident involving two police officers which occurred at Grand Bazaar. The shooting reportedly stemmed from a love triangle involving a sergeant, his wife, and a corporal. The two men were taken to hospital suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Both men were said to be in a stable condition.
Bartholomew and others v Attorney-General (2011)
In this case before the High Court which concerned alleged unlawful use of force by prison officers, Judge Judith Jones declared that:
At the end of the day the question of whether reasonable force was used is a question for me to answer. I have to determine whether the force used by the police officers was reasonable. The mere statement that reasonable force was used does nothing to discharge the burden of proof placed on the defendant in this regard. While such a statement may have some place in a pleading it has no place in evidence. A defendant relying on such a defence must give evidence of what was done so that the judge can determine whether that action was reasonable given the circumstances.High Court, Bartholomew and others v Attorney-General, Judgment, 13 January 2011, §34.