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