PM re-iterates commitment to adjusting the laws to protect minors unwilling to testify

Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda Gaston Browne (courtesy ABLP)

Prime Minister Gaston Browne has re-iterated the government’s commitment to addressing any deficiency which

may exist within the law to protect minors who are unwilling to testify in court.
This is as a direct result of the public outcry about the outcome of a recent rape case in the High Court, where charges of kidnapping and unlawful sexual intercourse against a policeman were withdrawn after the 13-year-old alleged victim refused to testify. Since the case was withdrawn, about two weeks ago, a committee was established to examine changes that could be made to the law to correct what the public views to be a problem.

Speaking on Pointe FM, PM Browne said, the committee, headed, by Social Transformation Minister Samantha Marshall, has already established its terms of reference and will be putting forward specific recommendations to the government on how to move forward with the process. Browne was careful not to give a timeline after highlighting the fact that things are still at an embryonic stage.

“We are trying to at least get some recommendations as to how we can strengthen the laws and the administrative framework to ensure that there is no re-occurrence of that type of situation, or if there is such a reoccurrence, we have some alternative to address the issue,” Browne said.

His reassurance came on the heels of tremendous public uproar from Antiguans and Barbudans at home and abroad, and several advocacy groups to include the Professional Organisation for Women of Antigua, Gender Affairs as well as Women of Esteem (WOE) and others. The group WOE launched a petition late last week and is demanding a full review of the case – from the commencement to the dismissal.

The group is adamant that the decision that was made in the court and subsequently accepted, should be null and void because by law, a child under 16 years of age is unable to give consent and the petition further claims, said child cannot instruct a judge.

The group said the petition, which is targeting 30,000 signatures, will be delivered to the prime minister, attorney general and governor general once those signatures are collected.

The Prime Minister is questioning the objective of the activist group, which started in 2011 to advocate for the rights of women and girls, noting that long before the group even started its petition the government was already doing what it could from a legal standpoint.

“What does she {President of WOE Nikki Phoenix] want the government to do? Does she want us to go and dabble into the [affairs] of the judiciary, something they are speculating could happen when we transition to the CCJ? What exactly is the objective?” Browne stated when asked about the issue on air on Saturday.

He said he does not have a problem with advocacy, however he is against people using a situation to ‘gain popularity or fame.’

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