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Eustace: Amendments to the bills target NDP

Eustace: Amendments to the bills target NDP

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Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace has called on Vincentians to join his New Democratic Party (NDP) in staging a formal protest against Government’s amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code of St.Vincent and the Grenadines, and section 51 of the Representation of People Act which should have been passed into law yesterday.{{more}}

Eustace, on Tuesday, January 18, in a live broadcast on Nice Radio, said that he was disturbed by the amendments of the laws because they deeply affect the country’s democracy.

He said he believes that the amendments to the Bills are targeted at the Opposition. He said just last week, the Director of Pubilc Prosecution (DPP) discontinued charges which were brought by the Opposition against Government Ministers, under provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code of St.Vincent and the Grenadines and the Representation of People Act.

“It affects my sense of decency, my sense of what I think a democratic society should be like and they are totally unacceptable,” said Eustace.

“This is craziness; this is a government gone mad,” said Eustace, adding “this is a dangerous precedent that has been set here.”

But Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves in an interview with SEARCHLIGHT on Tuesday, contends that the amendments are being carried out to prevent the abuse of the laws.

“I am saying that private criminal prosecution is open to abuse,” said Gonsalves.

Under the existing Criminal Code, an individual may go the Chief Magistrate and file a private criminal complaint once they feel that they have been aggrieved by someone. The Chief Magistrate would then, on the face of the complaint, consider whether what is complained of is a criminal offence, and if it is, issue a summons.

Gonsalves pointed out that the Chief Magistrate does not look at evidence, and only has to satisfy herself that the complaint is bona fide, and that such a complaint had not been adjudicated on before and disposed of by any competent court. A few days earlier on a radio call-in programme, Gonsalves was of the view that with all the legal authorities in place to dispense justice, why not utilize them, instead of having a charge being issued as a result of the Chief Magistrate’s administrative duties, which do not allow for the examination of evidence.

With the amendment to the legislation, the DPP will make an examination and inquiry of the evidence, as he is considered by the Government as the most competent person to do so with the resources at his disposal, including the Police Force.

“If the DPP in fact feels that there is a criminal offence, the DPP may say ‘Listen I am going to prosecute’ or they would say ‘There is nothing here, there would be no prosecution,” said Gonsalves.

Eustace has charged that the amendments are obvious signs of dictatorship in St.Vincent and the Grenadines.

Two amendments are being made to Criminal Procedure Code of St.Vincent and the Grenadines. The first stipulates that before any person institutes a private prosecution, that individual must obtain a fiat or official order from the DPP. On this note, Prime Minister Gonsalves explained that if the DPP does not grant the fiat, one can seek judicial review of his decision, which is already stated in the law.

The second amendment mandates that unless the DPP grants a fiat, no private prosecution will be instituted.

The amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code also directs that the DPP may request from the person intending to institute a private prosecution or from his lawyer any or all the evidence, statements or other material, which the DPP in his/her own absolute direction considers necessary.

The amendment also has a provision which stipulates that nothing in its sections should be construed to curtail the powers of the DPP under any law including the power to give direction.

It also orders that a fiat referred to in that particular section is required from the DPP whether or not the commission of the alleged offence is before or after the commencement of the Act.

“You see the kind of dictatorship, the tampering with the law that this government is getting involved in,” said Eustace.

The Representation of the People Act on the other hand will be amended by removing subsections three and four. Section three states: “Any person who, before or during an election, for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate or prospective candidate at such election, makes or publishes any false statement in fact in relation to the personal character or conduct of such candidate is guilty of an illegal practice and liable to a fine of $750 and to imprisonment for one year.”

Subsection four allowed for the penalty of barring of a Parliamentarian from being elected or appointed to the House of Assembly for five years if he or she is convicted under that section. These sections have not been substituted with anything.

Eustace stated that the amendments are being brought to the House to protect the Government while they take away people’s rights. (HN)

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