January 19, 2007

Constitutional Review Commission recommendationsMore human rights issues raised by the public – final part


10. Rights of Police and Prison Officers

“There is a call for a specific Chapter in the Constitution governing the responsibilities and rights of the Police and Prison Officers, which should include the right to ongoing training and more suitable conditions of service”.

The commission said it was implored by members of the prison service at all levels to address “sundry deeply-felt grievances” held over several decades. Foremost among those grievances is what prison officers perceive to be discriminatory treatment in comparison with members of the police force. Briefly, prison officers are subject to the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission, whilst policemen and policewomen are subject to the jurisdiction of the Police Service Commission.{{more}} One implication of this duality of jurisdiction is that prison officers do not enjoy the same kind of privileges as do members of the police service, for example in terms of eligibility for pension and gratuity. The commission said these were not primarily Constitutional issues and so they referred, through the report, the issues to the attention of the authorities so that appropriate steps might be taken to have the grievances investigated and, where necessary, addressed effectively.

11. Rights of Victims

“(a) Victim means a person against whom a criminal offence has been threatened or committed or, if the person is killed or incapacitated, it means the person’s spouse, parent, child or other lawful representative.

(b) All victims should be informed of their constitutional rights.

(c) All victims should be treated with fairness, respect and dignity.

(d) The State should preserve and protect victims’ rights to justice and due process; a victim of crime should have a right to be free from intimidation, harassment or abuse throughout the criminal justice process, as well as the right to express to the court the loss that they have sustained (including emotional loss and trauma)”.

The commission supported the sentiments and recommended the strengthening of the provisions.

12. Right to Vote

“Every person having legal status should be entitled to participate in the governance of his/her country, directly or through his/her Representatives, and to take part in popular elections, which shall be by secret ballot, and shall be honest, periodic and free. Persons serving a sentence of imprisonment should not be debarred from voting and persons in

mental institutions should similarly not be debarred from voting”.

The commission said that while it had no quarrel in principle, it might not be logistically possible with the security forces already stretched to the limit on polling day to escort several hundred prisoners to different polling stations in 15 constituencies. Similarly considerations exist for mentally ill persons along with the question of whether they were capable of making informed or rational decisions.

13. Economic Rights

“(a) This should be a fundamental right.

(b) The supreme goal of the economic system should be the fullest possible satisfaction of the people’s growing material, cultural and intellectual requirements”.

The commission said it was in sympathy with the call for economic rights to be regarded as fundamental rights, but thought that such sentiments should be framed as aspirations and not as rights capable of enforcement in a court of law and referred to basic fundamental rights in chapter one of the revised draft Constitution by Trinidad and Tobago.

14. The Need for a Charter Responsibilities

“Some persons felt that in the same way as our Constitution has set out a number of guaranteed Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, it is equally important that the Constitution should also set out a Charter of Responsibilities binding on persons who are governed by the Constitution, for these reasons:

(a) It has to be clearly understood that the enjoyment of rights carries with it the obligation to observe certain responsibilities.

(b) The overwhelming focus on individual rights can lead persons to ignore the importance of collective rights, that is, the rights of the community as a whole and the rights of the State.

(c) Unrestricted freedom could lead to general indiscipline and even chaos”.

The commission said that it thought it useful to add to the Preamble of the existing Constitution a suitably worded clause expressing the notion of collective rights and individual responsibilities. “We hasten to add, however, that the existing Preamble should not be amended except for the addition we are now recommending,” the commissioners stated in their final report.