Gone fishing?

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Two strange pronouncements by our good Attorney General (AG).  The Honourable Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin, have left many Antiguans and Barbudans scratching their heads. Not that we don’t regularly get strange pronouncements from the political directorate. Indeed, strange pronouncements are par for the course here in our fair State, the coin of the realm, if you will. It almost seems as though, every blessed week, at least one member of this administration, opens his or her mouth, and . . . well . . . puts his or her foot in it, offering up tripe for domestic consumption. The good news is that, increasingly, nobody is taking them seriously. Most of what they say is now greeted with a shrug, a roll of the eyes, or a world-weary sigh.

Anyway, in response to the outrage that many Antiguans and Barbudans felt at the transfer of Umberto Schenato from Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP), where he is supposed to be serving a 20-year sentence for murdering his ex-wife, Edda, to the Fiennes Institute, our AG declared, “Let it be known very clearly that Mr. Umberto is at the Fiennes Institute as a patient, not as a prisoner. Mr. Umberto was a patient at the Mount St. John’s hospital. He is still receiving medical treatment and it was thought fitting that he should not remain in the hospital any longer, but he could not be returned to Her Majesty’s Prison because they haven’t got the medical equipment and other services which he required.” Hence, his transfer to the Fiennes.

The good AG further said that after he recovers from that which ails him, Umberto Schenato will be returned to the HMP to continue serving his sentence. All well and good. The AG was also careful to point out that there are laws and international conventions against cruel and unusual punishment for prisoners, and if a prisoner is in need of medical attention, we must provide him or her with the necessary treatment, even if it means transferring such an one to the hospital, or in this case, the Fiennes. According to the AG, “We must remember that we are all signatories to the Human Rights conventions around the world, and even when there is a war, there are conventions that prisoners of war should not be mistreated. That situation applies in this case as well.” Again, all well and good.

But our AG must know that wherever Umberto Schenato is housed, for whatever reason, he is a prisoner. He can be a patient, in addition to being a prisoner. The Superintendent of Prisons can declare any place a prison, and unless the sentence of the court is vacated or some other lawful prerogative is brought to bear, and so on and so forth, Schenato is in the custody of HMP. He is a prisoner. It was rather surprising to hear an unquestionably learned legal luminary like our AG, make a distinction between Schenato’s status as “a patient” as opposed to being “a prisoner.” We can only hope that it was a momentary cerebral lapse. (Scratch head)

Then there was the question of an independent police complaints commission to probe allegations of police brutality and shenanigans in the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda. The idea was proposed by Attorney Warren Cassell and former Superintendent of Police, Vere Browne, who suggested that the “police ought not to be investigating the police.” [THE DAILY OBSERVER, Tuesday June 16 and THE BIG ISSUES, Sunday June 14]. Attorney Cassell said that in the absence of an outside adjudicator, “Every single case brought against police officers can be challenged as not being independent.” Former Commissioner Browne opined that an independent review board ‘would help to increase public confidence in the police.’ All well and good!

But then came the head-scratcher. Our good AG said the following, “I have made inquiries into the possibility for the establishment of such a board, and I have been informed that in fact there is a complaints committee in place. Be that as it may however, we will look at it again and make certain that we put the proper structure in place.” Hmmmm! We don’t know about you folks, but we get the impression from his “I have been informed that there is a complaints committee in place,” that he has not seen a single complaint against the police in all of his six years as AG. Moreover, he had to be told that there is already a complaints committee, never mind that it is arguably toothless and biased, or worse, non-functional. (See our Integrity Commission). We mean, why did the AG not seem to know about the existence of this complaints committee?

We certainly trust that this was just a slip by the AG, and that he will live up to his promise re the independent police complaints commission, to “look at it again and make certain that we put the proper structure in place.” As a matter of urgency.The times certainly demand it.Sigh!(See the grand promises about overhauling the Industrial Court. We know how that is working out)

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