Let me say from the onset that the majority of our attorneys general have never been particularly famous for their demonstrated creativity. I dare to say the popular perception is that the lawyers who’ve headed the attorney general’s office were never as talented as they would have the man on the Gros Islet bus believe. Otherwise, they would not have passed up private-practice opportunities to become overnight millionaires in favor of an attorney general’s salary that is a close cousin of minimum wage. Can you imagine, say, Peter Foster giving up his current practice for the assumed privilege of serving as Stephenson King’s legal advisor? Or Kenny Anthony’s, for that matter—if he should manage to pull off another Christmas-time miracle?
Lately I’ve been wondering more and more why so many lawyers who have never been famous for their services to the community seem ready to do whatever it takes for a seat in parliament that’s worth at the moment no more than a measly ten thousand dollars a month. Social conscience, you say? Hey, now please don’t get me started on lawyers with consciences.
Of course someone is bound to remind me that Mario Michel, who has always been an honorable man despite Helenair, served as attorney general under Kenny Anthony. To which I might say: Philip J Pierre also served under Kenny Anthony as acting prime minister yet knew nothing about Rochamel, let alone Frenwell.
If memory serves, Mario merely held on for a vacationing Petrus Compton. Remember him? A really nice man, true, but as an attorney general he is most remembered for publicly acknowledging he headed a murderous system that let down poor 13-year-old Verlinda Joseph. Petrus was also responsible for the Revised Criminal Code of Saint Lucia, wherein it is stated that journalists who cannot prove what they write about “public interests” are liable to two years imprisonment? I speak here of Section 361—finally repealed under duress. Petrus it also was who gave us the following unforgettable line that inadvertently exposed Rochamel’s messy underbelly: “That guarantee is not worth the paper it’s written on!”
Need I recall an earlier time when a now deceased Soufriere man named Lenard Riviere brought to parliament what he described as “the most draconian piece of legislation to come before this House,” a law that the Labour Party swore to repeal upon coming to office in 1979 but is still on our statute books (the more things change . . .)? I refer to the infamous amendment to the Public Order Act that allowed the then government to kick David England out of Saint Lucia in the circumstances absolutely shameful, in the process destroying England’s family.
But let us return to Mario Michel’s stint as justice minister, when he strongly supported subsection 593 (4) of the Revised Criminal Code of Saint Lucia that denied bail to individuals charged with murder, rape, drug and firearm offenses. Lucky for Lorne Theophilus that Justice Shanks threw out Michel’s persistent but somewhat arcane arguments or he might well have found himself spending time in a special Bordelais remand cell on charges later withdrawn by his teary-eyed accuser.
Then there was the insistence on the part of Michel’s government that magistrates be denied wiggle room when it came to sentencing citizens found guilty of particular offenses—again overturned, if memory serves—all of which now leads me to ask: Why is the current attorney general so hell-bent on treading in the mucky footsteps of both Petrus Compton and Mario Michel? Might the answer to my question have anything to do with the branch of law that is Rudolph ‘Doddy’ Francis’ specialty? How much does corporate law have to do with criminal law?
Two weeks ago, possibly high on the Christmas spirit, Doddy invited the press to come and hear him crow. What did he have to crow about? Well, little that the rest of us had recognized before, good enough reason why Doddy pulled a full house. Smiling from ear to there, the recently installed attorney general seemed to be saying the horrific crime situation was an excuse to threaten both the criminals and their victims. He said parents would in the new year be held responsible for their offspring’s aberrant behavior. Did he mean to say the parents of the sixteen- and eighteen-year-olds allegedly responsible for the overwhelming illegal gun activity in Castries will be arrested, brought to court and possibly incarcerated? And what about the one-night-stand fathers who headed out of Dodge right after dropping their quickie seed? What about separated parents? Will both be arrested in all circumstances and dragged before a judge? Doesn’t all of this mean their murderous kids would have first to be identified—in our current circumstances a miracle dimensionally equal to that of the loaves and the fishes? But why stop at the parents of young offenders? Why not parents of 30-year-olds as well? After all, they are what they are because of bad parenting. Right? And what about the successive governments, the leaders of which openly admitted on TV that they let down the nation’s youth? But then again elections were days away when they fessed up!
Much of what Doddy said at his press conference about firearms was passé, the previous government having already gone there to no avail. Consider this line from the gap-toothed AG: “In terms of our plans for the upcoming year we intend to strengthen the existing legislation with regard to firearms and dangerous weapons. Many persons may take offense to it, many persons may be affected by it, many innocent persons may unfortunately be caught up in it. But given where we are today we don’t have a choice. We have to act swiftly and decisively as far as firearms and dangerous weapons are concerned.”
We have to act swiftly—now that the horses have bolted and their hooves are all over our faces? Francis promised the prime minister would in the new year (just before elections, perhaps?) “lay out complete and total crime-fighting strategies for Saint Lucia.” Did Doddy mean to say the prime minister will be transferring himself to the RSLPF? Does the Public Service Commission know?
Francis went on, as if all of the journalists at his press conference were recent visitors from Mars: “Our intention is to make firearm offenses an offense of strict liability.” Yes, he actually said that! And just perchance his audience didn’t quite get how firearms offenses would be made an offense, Doddy explained: “This means that it places a person legally responsible for his or her acts or omissions.” Now that must be new!
He went on, doubtless flaunting his inventiveness: “If you are found with a firearm you are guilty once that firearm is not licensed. Anybody found with an unlicensed firearm will get an automatic jail sentence of ten years and maybe a fine to go with this. This is going to be compounded if you are found with ammunition. That in itself would attract an additional jail sentence. What we’ve realized now is the proliferation of illegal arms in Saint Lucia is no longer tolerable [as once it was?]. Unfortunately, there may be some innocent persons who may be caught in the process but unfortunately we have to deal with this thing in this manner to address the situation.” Gibberish, you say? Unfortunately, it suggests how much thought went into our attorney general’s unfortunate statements on the occasion. And that’s unfortunate!
Just in case legally licensed gun owners imagined themselves safe, Doddy went on: “Too many licensed firearms find their way into criminal hands. Persons must recognize that they are given a license to carry a dangerous weapon and that weapon should be on your person at all times. If ever you’re leaving the state or you have a problem keeping this weapon on your person it can be deposited at a police station nearby for safekeeping. We’re going to get tough!”
Yeah, right. And all this time I thought there were laws already in place for owners of licensed firearms, laws that say precisely what Doddy said at his press conference. Then again “we’re going to get tough” is definitely new!
While announcing “stiffer penalties” for licensed gun owners who lose their firearms, the AG said: “We have also received information that licensed firearm holders are purchasing ammunition and that ammunition is finding its way to the criminals. We are reliably informed that a criminal can buy a round of ammunition for ten or fifteen dollars. Criminals cannot buy from licensed traders but from licensed gun holders they can obtain the ammunition. Licensed gun holders will be required to account for all the ammunition they purchased. If you cannot, we are going to withdraw your license. The penalties where it involves a police officer will be even harsher than for the ordinary licensed holder.”
The police? Where do they fit into this? Was the AG suggesting cops actually sell ammunition to criminals? What about guns? Are police officers required to account for every bullet they fire in the line of duty? Is what they say verifiable?
Doubtless citizens will feel a lot safer, having been assured by our newly “tough” attorney general that “if you are in the company of someone who is in possession of an illegal firearm you too will be arrested. If there’s an illegal firearm at your house, every occupant of that house will be held liable unless you can prove no knowledge of it. For bus drivers we expect bus drivers to report suspect passengers or not pick up suspect passengers because if an illegal firearm is found on your bus you too will be held liable.”
At least he didn’t once beg criminals to give the people a break for Christmas!