January 5, 2007

Fundamental Rights and Freedoms



Human rights was one of the two areas which occupied the majority of time of the Constitutional Review Commission which has made numerous recommendations affecting the fundamental rights and freedoms of Vincentians.

The right to life

– Capital punishment should be retained for murder, treason and high treason but a new method of execution, other than hanging, should be considered.{{more}}

The right to personal liberty

– Laws which provide for the penalty of imprisonment for non-payment of a civil debt should be repealed.

Protection from slavery and forced labour

– Laws which provide for imprisonment with hard labour should be re-examined and prisoners who work while serving sentences of imprisonment should receive reasonable monetary compensation upon their discharge from prison.

Protection from inhuman treatment

-Corporal punishment should not be automatically deemed to be inhuman treatment, but the circumstances and degree should be spelt out in appropriate legislation.

Protection from deprivation of property

– When property is compulsorily acquired, fair and adequate compensation should be paid to the property owner within a specified period of time. However should government fail to compensate the owner as agreed, the property should be re-claimed, if possible, along with such compensation as the Court might award. The compensation should be based on current market values with retroactive interest payment.

Protection from arbitrary search or entry

– There were no recommendations to amend this provision however the commission said that “concerns have been raised as to the frequency of highhanded methods” of executing search warrants and suggested that the procedure for arbitrary search or entry should be regulated by Parliament.

Provisions to secure protection of the law

– An effective legal aid system should be provided so that justice might be accessible by all persons regardless of economic circumstances while for those who are in protective custody, provisions should be made to protect them from physical abuse.

Protection of freedom of conscience

– The commission recommended that there be a clear definition between freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

– The commissioners also recommended that a series of consultations should be held to develop constitutional principles, and possibly to draft ordinary legislation, applicable to those persons who embrace Rastafarianism.

Freedom of expression

– There was no recommendations for this provision.

Freedom of assembly and association

– This provision should be amended to confer specific protection of the right to collective bargaining by trade unions.

Freedom of movement

– The commissioners recommended that further consideration should be given to this right in light of the movement towards regional and sub-regional integration.

Protection from discrimination

– The Constitution should make it clear that the definition of marriage should be stated to be a legal union between a biological male and a biological female; apart from this and the “overwhelming public aversion to homosexuality”, no further changes to this provision were recommended.

Access to the Courts (“Locus Standi”)

– Section 96 of the Constitution, which deals with the original jurisdiction of the High Court in Constitutional questions, should be modified so as to liberalise the definition of the phrase “relevant interest”, in order to provide easier access to the Courts by persons alleging violations of their constitutional rights.

– The commissioners strongly advocated that consideration should be given to the incorporation into the Constitution of the following additional rights and freedoms:

(a) Right to equality of treatment;

(b) Political rights;

(c) Right to basic amenities;

(d) Right to housing;

(e) Freedom of culture;

(f) Freedom of the press;

(g) Right to protection as a witness.

No Saving for existing law

– Laws which are in conflict with the Constitution should be declared null and void. However, where appropriate, they could be modified and adapted to bring them into conformity with the Constitution.

Costs in Constitutional cases

– The commissioners deemed it undesirable that persons whose rights are violated by the State might be reluctant to seek justice in the Courts because they might not be in a financial position to run the risk of having to pay heavy legal costs. They recommended that (a) that there should be a constitutional provision that requires the State to provide legal aid in constitutional cases, subject to reasonable guidelines and conditions; and (b) that in any event, costs should be awarded only in exceptional cases against litigants in constitutional cases, at the discretion of the Court.