Members of legal fraternity in Grenada have voiced strong objection to moves by the Legal Affairs Department purporting amendments to sections of the criminal code, to reflect changes in dealing with sex related offences before the court and increased penalties for persons found guilty of such offenses.
Addressing members of the media during a press briefing held at the Grenlaw Chambers in St George’s last Friday the team of criminal lawyers, which included, Anselm Clouden, Derrick Sylvester, Jerry Edwin, Francis Paul, Andre Thomas and Trinidadian Otis Spencer claimed that the new draft amendments put forward by the Attorney General’s Chambers, speaks in bold terms to a violation of the Constitution of Grenada, and takes away the rights to a fair trial and the rights to due process from persons accused of sex related offenses.
Dubbed an unprecedented moment in Grenada’s history where for the first time a team of lawyers speaks with one voice in defense of accused persons, Clouden said as members of the Grenada Bar Association they have serious problems in accepting that certain fundamental rights that have been in place for centuries are now under threat.
Clouden said from the point of view of a criminal lawyer, the path taken by the AG speaks to tyranny and has no place in democratic countries such as Grenada. He went further to say the move is intended to take Grenada down an unconstitutional pathway where innocent persons that are accused would be incarcerated without access to due process.
In his address to last Friday’s briefing, Sylvester acknowledged that communication was passed on from the AG Chambers to the President of the Grenada Bar Association seeking feedback on three aspects of the draft document that speaks to amendment to the law, namely Criminal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and the the Evidence Act. His concern was however, that lawyers should have been part of the initial stages of the process prior to arriving at a draft. In its present construct, Sylvester noted that what is before the members of the bar, is a draft bill seeking amendments before going to parliament for approval, and therefore to ask for feedback at this stage, shows a lack of respect for members of the bar. According to him, feedback and consultation should not come after the bill has been drafted.
Sylvester noted that while this document may not benefit the lawyers, they have a duty as professionals, to ensure that every Grenadian is guaranteed a fair trial in the eyes of the law.
Sylvester also condemned in strong terms, the reasoning advanced by Attorney General Darshan Ramdhani for the amendment to the Criminal Code at this time. According to him, in a letter sent to the President of the Grenada Bar Association, the AG points to recent cases involving young victims of sexual abuse as being one of the main drivers for the amendment.
This Sylvester said, has its dangers since the public should not be allowed to drive changes in the law that is contrary to the constitution, he noted that if the state for whatever reason, is dissatisfied with a particular sentence, there are avenues available for dealing with such rather than taking away the rights of accused persons.
According to Sylvester, the amendments seek the removal of certain witness from being cross examined, allow medical evidence to be tendered in court without being questioned, or without that medical expert being present and an increase in maximum sentence from thirty years to life in prison.
The veteran lawyer said that while they have no issue with steeper penalties for guilty persons, what they are asking for are due process and a fair trial.
Looking at the recommendations Sylvester said, they are void of legal reasoning and geared towards taking this country down a path of precolonial days.
Adding his voice to the list of lawyers condemning the AG’s amendment request was attorney at law Jerry Edwin who was of the view that the direction now embarked on by the AG hints to some extent of constitutional reform and this he said has its problems.
Edwin noted as legal luminaries they expect more from the leading law officer; however, according to him it seems as if he has fallen victim to the comments on social media relating to the recent sentencing in the Grenville matter involving a five-year-old child.
Edwin noted that the law is not driven by political consideration or the public calls for the head of the innocent. He admitted that children that are victims of abuse and sex related offense should be protected, or be accorded certain rights. Nevertheless, he said to send every accused person to prison without affording him or her the right to a fair trial is not the answer.
Also adding their voices to last Friday’s press briefing were attorneys at law Francis Paul, Andre Thomas, and Otis Spencer who hails
from Trinidad and Tobago.
See AG’s Response
on page 07