BREAK­ING CHAINS

“Lib­er­ate the minds of men and ul­ti­mately you will lib­er­ate the bod­ies of men.” - Mar­cus Gar­vey

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Lex Ne­gus

L ib­erty is one of our fun­da­men­tal rights sec­ond only to the right to life. It is one of those things we en­joy in our daily lives, even to the point of tak­ing it for granted. It is a right which is af­forded to ev­ery Saint Lu­cian un­der our Con­sti­tu­tion. The Con­sti­tu­tion is ba­si­cally the doc­u­ment which out­lines the agree­ment be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the peo­ple; it gives power to the gov­ern­ment and bal­ances that power by af­ford­ing rights to the peo­ple.

The law, through the Con­sti­tu­tion, jeal­ously guards the fun­da­men­tal rights of the peo­ple and strictly reg­u­lates any at­tempts to vi­o­late those rights. Any time the gov­ern­ment wishes to in­ter­fere with a fun­da­men­tal right af­forded to the peo­ple it must do so by at­tain­ing the sup­port of three quar­ters of the mem­bers of the House.

Un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion the right to lib­erty may only be re­stricted or re­moved in cer­tain lim­ited cir­cum­stances. Those cir­cum­stances are:

• where there is rea­son­able sus­pi­cion that a per­son has com­mit­ted or is about com­mit a crim­i­nal of­fence un­der any law;

• where a per­son is un­fit to plead to a charge or or­der of the Court;

• in ex­e­cu­tion of an or­der of the court to se­cure his/her at­ten­dance to Court;

• where a per­son is found to be in con­tempt of Court; • for the pur­pose of pre­vent­ing the spread of in­fec­tious dis­ease;

• where a per­son is of un­sound mind, ad­dicted to drugs or al­co­hol, a va­grant or his/her care or treat­ment is nec­es­sary for the pro­tec­tion of the com­mu­nity;

• for the pur­pose of pre­vent­ing a per­son’s un­law­ful en­try into St. Lu­cia or fa­cil­i­tat­ing his/her ex­pul­sion, ex­tra­di­tion;

• where it is nec­es­sary to do so in pur­suance of an or­der of the Court re­quir­ing a per­son to be kept in a par­tic­u­lar lo­cal­ity or pro­hibit­ing him from be­ing in a par­tic­u­lar place.

Any de­ten­tion which does not fall within the head­ings above is likely in breach of the con­sti­tu­tional rights of the per­son de­tained.

The Con­sti­tu­tion also ex­plic­itly states that a per­son who is ar­rested or de­tained should be:

• in­formed within 24 hours of the time of his ar­rest or at the very least within a rea­son­able time of the rea­sons for his ar­rest

• be al­lowed to speak pri­vately with a friend or fam­ily mem­ber and

• have a con­sul­ta­tion with a le­gal prac­ti­tioner of his choice.

Any per­son who is not re­leased must be brought be­fore the Court within 72 hours of his ar­rest. The Court would usu­ally at that time hear the rea­sons for the per­son’s ar­rest and, if pos­si­ble, de­ter­mine the mat­ter. If the Court needs the per­son to re­turn it would ei­ther place that per­son in cus­tody un­til such pe­riod as the mat­ter can be re­solved or place that per­son on bail.

Bail or a bail bond is ba­si­cally a form of se­cu­rity, or surety, de­signed to en­sure that a per­son who was ar­rested and brought be­fore the Court at­tends Court on the day and at the time the Court chooses. When a per­son is in cus­tody and any de­lay in hear­ing the trial be­comes un­rea­son­able in the Court’s eyes, the Court may con­sider it as a fac­tor which would en­cour­age the grant of bail.

The Court should aim to try cases within a rea­son­able time. How­ever, rea­son­able must be seen within the con­text of our Caribbean le­gal sys­tem. The lack of re­sources makes it dif­fi­cult or even im­pos­si­ble to have tri­als hap­pen in a short time and it has been com­mon to hear of peo­ple spend­ing years in cus­tody be­fore trial.

Gen­er­ally, where a per­son has been un­law­fully de­tained his friends or rel­a­tives may seek the pro­tec­tion of the Courts on that per­son’s be­half. The Court may de­mand the at­ten­dance of the per­son re­spon­si­ble for the de­ten­tion to ex­plain the rea­sons for the de­ten­tion. The Court may al­low the de­ten­tion to con­tinue, or­der the re­lease of the de­tainee or or­der the ar­rest and de­ten­tion of the per­son re­spon­si­ble for the de­ten­tion.

A per­son who has been un­law­fully de­tained may bring suit against the per­son re­spon­si­ble. The Court has the power to award dam­ages and there are re­ported cases where peo­ple have been awarded con­sid­er­able sums for false im­pris­on­ment. In 2011 the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court awarded Omarra Small EC$100,000 af­ter be­ing in­car­cer­ated for 78 days on charges of mur­der and con­spir­acy to mur­der. The pros­e­cu­tion failed to of­fer any ev­i­dence. (Visit www.ec­courts.org. for more in­for­ma­tion.) The first step to lib­er­a­tion is know­ing your rights.

For more in­for­ma­tion on fun­da­men­tal rights in Saint Lu­cia see The Con­sti­tu­tion of St. Lu­cia Chap­ter 1.01.

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