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Do not throw out the baby with the bath water!

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St.Vincent and the Grenadines is a country in which so many bizarre things appear to happen every so often. This is compounded by the fact that our people are simply prepared to take things as they go. We question very little but rationalize quite a lot. It is as though we expect the worst from each other and conclude that that is the way things are and that we have little control over these matters. The issue of the slapping of IPA continues to intrigue me.{{more}} Unless IPA’s lawyer is prepared to press along with legal challenges, one would have to assume that this is the end of that matter. In fact, that is what the Commissioner of Police appeared to be indicating. None of the officers we are told was aware of any slapping of IPA. An identification parade is no longer possible because photographs appearing in the newspapers have ruled that out as an option.

Unless IPA has lost control of his senses, one of the police officers in question seemed to have been responsible for administering that ‘phantom’ slap. Now we are not dealing with the whole population of SVG, we are dealing with identifiable police officers. If the police cannot adequately handle a matter as simple as this, how do we expect them to deal with other more complex matters? This issue is not only the inability to find the culprit but about the original charge, the slapping of the Calypsonian and the comment that he should sing about that. It continues to stink to high heavens and serves further to destroy or weaken our confidence in the police. If IPA’s story is true, and I see no reason to believe that it isn’t, then there was a violation of his rights as a citizen. I am thinking of all of this when I read excerpts from the US Department of State’s “Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2007”. The report paints a damning picture of human rights violation in the Caribbean.

The Report claims that in SVG the major issues have to do with “impunity for police who used excessive force, poor prison conditions, an overburdened court system, violence against women and abuse of children.” The IPA case is not about use of excessive force but about practices of the police. In recent weeks, if not months, there have been so many negative feelings about the justice system and the enforcement of law and order that such matters feed this picture. With crime being a major issue in the Caribbean there is need for a strong and disciplined police establishment in which the people of the country can have confidence. As I am always indicating, success in solving crime depends on the community’s willingness to cooperate with the police. Anything that will destroy that cooperation or the confidence of the people must be removed.

CARICOM has placed the crime situation high on its agenda as it seeks to develop a regional approach to tackling crime. A three-day meeting of Regional Security Chiefs, of Army Chiefs, Police Chiefs and the Regional Crime Response Unit was held recently in Guyana. Ten CARICOM countries along with Anguilla and Bermuda are listed as having sent participants. Missing from that list was St.Vincent and the Grenadines. I am not sure why this was so but tackling crime is such an urgent matter that one expects that our Government would give it its top priority. The danger arising from the crime situation is not only about the immediate victims but that it will begin to impact on our economy, particularly on investment and tourism. In recent months, yachts have been the target of criminal activity in parts of this country. The excellent communication networks that the yacht people have in place meant that the word got around immediately and many of us would have read reports circulated by some of the victims.

Then related to all of this is the Justice System. Recent pieces in the Jamaica Gleaner, the Antigua Sun and the Caribbean Media Corporation highlighted what one of the sources described as the NDP withdrawing its support for the Caribbean Court of Justice in its appellate jurisdiction. The Jamaica Gleaner carried an article by Vernon Daley entitled ‘Is the CCJ Dead?’ This article reinforced the point that so far only Guyana and Barbados have embraced the CCJ in both of its jurisdictions. It made particular reference to the opposition of the UNC in Trinidad and Tobago and the negative attitude held by the Jamaica Labour Party when in opposition. And now the position of the NDP is added to this.

The Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace had indicated that he was going to recommend to his Party’s Convention that they withdraw their support from the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction. It is my view that Mr. Eustace needs to rethink his position. My understanding is that his beef is with the operation of the Justice System at the national level. One understands why many people have these concerns. The matter involving the failure to confirm the appointment of Brian Alleyne as Chief Justice has moved the matter on to the regional scene, for it is widely believed, if not known, that one of our regional leaders was not prepared to go along with the confirmation of someone who most legal practitioners thought would have been an excellent choice.

The question of political interference is the chief concern. Having said all of that, I believe Mr. Eustace would agree, and I believe he has said something to that effect, that in the establishment of the CCJ, every effort was made to insulate it from political interference. The Caribbean Court of Justice should then be seen as a model, and pressure should be exerted to reform the local and regional justice system. This must be put high on the people’s agenda. We must not throw out the baby with the bath water, but point to the Caribbean Court of Justice as an example of what should be. With all of the efforts at insulation, do we have confidence in the CCJ? If we do ,then we would expect that Court to act in the way some of us believe the Privy Council acts.

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