Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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Uproar over CJ’s role
Opposition and Independent Senators have expressed concern over a revelation by Justice Minister Emmanuel George that Chief Justice (CJ) Ivor Archie had an input in the Prison Amendment Bill before it was brought to the Senate for debate yesterday. The bill seeks to impose heavier fines and longer jail terms for offences committed under the act, including breaking out of prison.
It also creates a new body corporate, called the Inspectorate of Prisons, to be headed by a Chief Prison Inspector and a Deputy Prison Inspector. Those positions are to be filled on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice. George’s revelation was made while thanking Archie and the Law Association “for their input into this particular bill.”
He said the Government had “sought their input before the bill was finalised.” George then quoted part of a letter sent to him by Archie in March in response to a letter dated December 23, 2013. Archie began by apologising to George for the delay in his response. George said the CJ’s letter said: “I have enclosed for your perusal the comments of the Judiciary on the Miscellaneous Provisions Bill.”
The minister said the CJ invited him to contact him if he had any concerns about the Judiciary’s comments and added: “The ministry did consult with the Judiciary and also the Law Association.” He said the association “did respond, via a letter from Ravi Rajcoomar, senior member,” and expressed support for the creation of the Inspectorate of Prisons, saying it was “correct and complies with modern international requirements.”
Independent Senator Helen Drayton then raised concerns about the role of the CJ, describing the minister’s revelation about the CJ as “very peculiar. So if there is a matter pertaining to this bill, how does the Chief Justice get involved and I am asking whether that was appropriate.” George did not respond directly but went on to give more details of the CJ’s role.
He said there was an issue of making HIV testing compulsory, “and on that particular matter I think the Chief Justice/the Judiciary were at pains to point out that we would be stepping way beyond our bounds of the constitutional rights of people to seek (to make) HIV testing compulsory among prisoners.” He said Archie presented a very cogent argument on that point. “So on that particular issue we did value the input of the Chief Justice,” George told legislators.
Independent Senator Elton Prescott, SC, rose in agreement with Drayton and asked if George was prepared to give the full content of the CJ’s advice, saying that “was inappropriate in the first place.” Prescott added: “Either you tell us all that he has said or tell us why we are being exposed to it.” Opposition Senator Faris Al-Rawi then said the minister should provide copies of the correspondence. George responded that he could circulate a copy.
Minutes later, leader of Opposition business Camille Robinson-Regis said she was “quite concerned” about George’s decision to bring into the Parliament debate the correspondence received from the Chief Justice. She said her concern was heightened by the fact that he read a line from the letter into the parliamentary records. Robinson-Regis said if Archie had “expressed no concerns over this piece of legislation, then it heightens my concern with what is taking place in the criminal justice system.”
The issue with the legislation, she said, was that the measure was “fraught with problems and issues that need to be addressed more fully.” She said George had skirted over the issues affecting prisoners, prison officers and the criminal justice system. She also expressed concern over the criteria for appointment of the Chief Inspector of Prisons and his deputy, saying that should not be allowed to happen without any reference to the Chief Personnel Officer or any other human resource agency.
The Senate is expected to meet again today to discuss private members’ business.