Don’t ignore the Charter of Rights

The demonstration by Parliamentarians, last week, that they would not surrender the country to criminals was bold and commendable.

Amid the fears, anxiety and death that gripped downtown Kingston due to the stand-off between lawmen and thugs, MPs from as far away as Westmoreland turned up at Gordon House to conduct the people’s business.

The Gavel was initially not in support of the House of Representatives sitting last Tuesday because we feared that the Gordon House staff was being unfairly exposed to danger.

While The Gavel accepted that it was good to send the signal that the people’s Parliament would not be abandoned because of some bad apples, the staff should not have been asked to put their lives on the line.

We were even more convinced that the legislators were making a big mistake when we considered the fact that the MPs were so scared to turn up at Gordon House that many, notwithstanding dozens of security personnel guarding their heads, found it necessary to dash for the Chamber.

While the legislators were being protected, we did not detect any extraordinary security for the Parliamentary staff, which without them, the sitting would have been impossible. However, having not heard any reports of any unfortunate events meeting those brave souls who turned up to Gordon House to support the legislators, we are now of the view that the decision to summon them was justified.

As has been reported in the media, Prime Minister Bruce Golding was in a defiant mood when he addressed the House on Tuesday. He told his Parliamentary colleagues that “the violence that has been unleashed on the society by armed, criminal elements must be repelled”.


We share that desire of the prime minister to crush criminality but we are concerned about the method that is being applied.

Golding has indicated he has asked the Leader of government business in the House to make arrangements for early debate on the anti-crime Bills. We hope that when these bills are brought to the House the concerns raised by the Opposition and civil society would be properly addressed.

We also remain concerned about the anti-gang legislation for which Cabinet has issued drafting instructions. It is our view that, without a corresponding move by Parliament to respect the rights of citizens, the enactment and enforcement of draconian legislation would only serve to create hardened criminals.

In fact, this is precisely why we find it very depressing that while Government is hell-bent on moving forward with these anti-crime and anti-gang bills we have heard nothing about the Charter of Rights, which has fallen off the Order Paper.

Frankly, given the firepower and resistance from criminals with which law-enforcers are confronted, it may be necessary to give additional powers to the police by way of the proposed bills.

However, a failure to go forward expeditiously with the Charter of Rights would send the signal that citizens are being asked to give up one pound of freedom to the State without the guarantee of an ounce of fundamental and constitutional rights being observed.

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The Gavel Posted by: The Gavel May 31, 2010 at 1:51 pm