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NDP CORNER: IS THERE EQUITY IN OUR JUSTICE SYSTEM?

The ease with which lives are destroyed by guns and knives highlights the need for a new approach to combating crime and violence. The Unity Labour Party (ULP) regime has failed to develop and implement strategies to effectively combat crime in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

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The New Democratic Party (NDP) is deeply concerned with the rapid increase in the number of homicides recorded so far for the year. Our streets are not always safe to walk; murders, robberies and domestic violence are increasing. For instance, for the first five months of this year, St. Vincent and the Grenadines recorded sixteen (16) homicides. In 2020, thirty three (33) homicides were reported and in 2016 forty (40) homicides were recorded. 

Further, between 2012 and 2018 over 2700 women applied to the Family Court for protection orders. That is about four hundred and fifty per year (450). Bear in mind that we have only one women’s emergency shelter and many who need shelter cannot access it. Those most vulnerable to rape and other sexual offences are girls under the age of thirteen (13) years. St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been ranked by the United Nations as one of the worst countries in the world for rape and sexual offences against women and children.

The most obvious effect of crime and violence is of course social: the pain and suffering caused to victims and loved ones; the health care cost in treating victims; the loss of family income as affected persons are unable to work. These effects are all too familiar to us.  It is an awareness of them that leads us to action that we hope will create greater urgency in addressing the problem.

The detrimental effects of crime and violence in a country are well-documented. A high crime rate, especially violent crime, scares away investors and hampers economic development. It drives citizens away from our shores to seek safer harbour in other countries.  These persons tend to be well-educated and so, more mobile.  This has a negative impact on national development. 

Unemployment and poverty are well known to be contributing factors to high crime rates. The ULP government must do more to create opportunities for our young people to find decent paying jobs, so as to enable them to lift themselves out of poverty and be given a chance at financial stability and economic independence. We must also ensure that our youth are provided with alternative paths to foster positive behavior – e.g. youth clubs, afterschool programmes and sporting activities. This requires providing adequate facilities. The NDP has spoken of this approach over the years in urging the implementation of a spiritual and social Redemption Charter. There is also a need for the establishment of an effective probation service that will monitor and counsel ex-convicts to aid in their rehabilitation and reduce the risk of further crimes. 

Community policing must be implemented, as this promotes trust between the police and the people and aids in the detection and prevention of crime. Indeed, the problem of crime and violence in our country requires a holistic approach and response with all stakeholders ready and willing to play their part.  A safe St. Vincent and the Grenadines will be a more prosperous St. Vincent and the Grenadines and help provide a better standard of living for all.

Criminal Justice System

An effective and well-resourced criminal justice system enhances the chances of securing convictions against those who commit criminal offences. This system involves the police, the Director of Public Prosecutions, lawyers, the courts, magistrates, judges and the penal system. It is of paramount importance that those persons and institutions mentioned are appropriately equipped to deal with reported crimes, in order to ensure that the guilty are convicted and the innocent are set free. But most importantly they ensure the maintenance of law and order and the preservation of the rights and freedoms of Vincentians.  The NDP takes the maintenance of those rights and freedoms very seriously and will introduce measures that will strengthen the criminal justice system.

We believe that critical to reducing crime and violence in our country is the presence of equity in our justice system. Persons must have confidence in the Criminal Justice system so that they refrain from taking matters into their own hands. Our police and security officers must also be properly equipped to handle and to respond swiftly to reported instances of crime before they escalate. 

Where is Justice?

‘We continue our call for Senator and Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly, Ms. Ashelle Morgan, to step-down or be suspended from that position, pending the outcome of investigation into an allegation that was made against her.

It has been six weeks since the alleged brutal attack by Senator and Deputy Speaker Ms. Ashelle Morgan, Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Mr. Karim Nelson, and another male person, upon Mr. Cornelius John, a senior citizen, on the night of 13th April, 2021 while he was in the sanctity of his home. We repeat our call on Commissioner of Police Mr. Colin John and Director of Public Prosecutions, Ms. Sejilla McDowall to conduct an impartial, transparent investigation and to bring charges against the alleged perpetrators of this attack based on the evidence. If, as it is alleged, Mr.  Cornelius John committed any offence; he too should be investigated and charged as warranted.   

This serious matter must not be made a political issue.  The alleged assailants must be brought to justice. It cannot be the proper functioning of the criminal justice system, especially the police, that six weeks after the shooting no one has been detained and no one has been charged. The reported comments by Commissioner of Police Mr. Colin John, in the Searchlight newspaper about cross complaints being made implies, that charges are forthcoming. Is there a credible reason for delay?’

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