DR. THE HON. RALPH E. GONSALVES
Both at common law and statue law a member of Parliament has a right of unhindered access to, and egress from, Parliament and its precincts. Indeed, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines two pieces of legislation address this matter: The Public Order Act (Chapter 396 of the Laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines) and the House of Assembly (Privileges, Powers and Immunities) Act (Chapter 2 of the Laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines).
These two statutes create criminal offences punishable by fines and imprisonment in important particulars of contemporary relevance given the unlawful wounding of the Prime Minister and other egregious examples of illegal conduct by several protesters belonging to, or associated with, the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), in the demonstration/meeting in front of the House of Assembly on Thursday August 5, 2021, during a sitting of the House.
THE PUBLIC ORDER ACT
The current Public Order Act first came into effect in 1951 and was subsequently amended on nine occasions, the last being in 1987 under the NDP administration. Among other things, the Public Order Act, in Section 5 thereof, requires that any person organizing or concerned with organizing any public meeting (which includes a protest gathering) or public procession, to notify the Commissioner of Police at least 24 hours before the meeting or procession of certain relevant particulars. Any organiser and any person who knowingly takes part in any such meeting or procession is guilty of an offence punishable by a fine of up to $1,500 and imprisonment for 3 months. I have been advised that no notification, as required by law, was tendered to the Commissioner of Police respect of the meeting and procession of Thursday, August 5, 2021.
Further, Sections 10, 11, and 12 of the Public Order Act creates offences, punishable by fines and imprisonment as in Section 5, for organisers and participants in a public meeting or procession who refuse to obey the orders of a Police Officer to disperse if a meeting or procession (for which notification was or was not tendered) is held within a radius of 200 yards from any point within the curtilage (the enclosed perimeter) of the Court House of Parliament building at any time when the House of Assembly is sitting. I have been advised that sections of the protesters were ordered to disperse on August 5, 2021, but they disobeyed. They surely did not disperse when the Prime Minister sought to exercise his lawful right to attend Parliament.
HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY (PRIVILEGES, POWERS, AND IMMUNITIES) ACT
Section 25 of this House of Assembly Act creates two relevant criminal offences for “strangers” who interfere with members of the House of Assembly on their privileges. A “stranger” under the Act means “any person other than a member or an officer of the House.”
Section 25 of this Act states:
“Any stranger who —
“(a) Assaults, hinders, obstructs or insults any member (Representative, Senator, Speaker) coming to, going from or being within the House, or the precincts of the House;
“(c) Creates or joins in any disturbance which interrupts or is liable to interrupt, the proceedings of the House while it is sitting,
is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of fifteen hundred dollars and to imprisonment for six months.”
There is ample video and direct, personal evidence of dozens of participants in the meeting/procession on August 5, 2021, who, prima facie, breached one or other of the provisions of Section 25 above.
OTHER APPLICABLE STATUTE LAW
Additionally, there are several other statutory provisions which touch and concern the unlawful conduct of several protesters on Thursday August 5, 2021, outside the immediate perimeter of the Parliament building.
These statutory provisions of relevance which connect to the factual matrices on August 5, 2021, include:
Section 303 of the Criminal Code (Chapter 171 of the Laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines) concerning “obstructing a police officer”: “Any person who willfully obstructs any police officer in the course of his duty, is guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment for six months.”
(ii) Section 296 of the Criminal Code concerning “throwing missile, etc. in a public place”: “Any person who, on or in the vicinity of any public place, throws or discharges any missile or dangerous object to the danger of any person or property, is guilty or an offence and liable to imprisonment for three months.”
(iii) Section 287 of the Criminal Code makes provisions in four subsections relating to “disorderly conduct” with terms of imprisonment ranging from 3 to 6 months.
(iv) Section 289 of the Criminal Code relating to “abusive, indecent, insulting, profane or threatening language”: liable to 3 months in jail.
(v) Various provisions in Chapter XIX of the Criminal Code on “Conspiracy, Attempt and Assisting Offenders”. Penalties of imprisonment vary.
HISTORY OF PROTESTS OUTSIDE THE PRECINCTS OF PARLIAMENT
In February 1994 I was elected as a Representative for North Central Windward to the Parliament. For over 27 years, thus far, as a Parliamentarian, whether in opposition or in government, I have never known of a single case of a member of Parliament being hindered in going to or coming from the House of Assembly by any protester. Certainly, no Parliamentarian has been assaulted, battered, or wounded by any protester. Similarly, no Parliamentarian has been cursed or vulgarly abused in front of the Parliament building, until the period after the 2015 general elections.
On more than one occasion since I have been Prime Minister I have walked through protesters without physical harm or injury until August 5, 2021. To be sure, there has been boisterous picong at times, but no physical injury or threats. I believe that the general “good behaviour” of protesters have caused successive Commissioners of Police to do “Police-Lite”, that is, policing with a light touch. Demonization of individual politicians and the promotion of violence and “bad behaviour” are new features of a “crazy wing” of, or associated with, the NDP has become emboldened over the years after December 2015. The current weak leadership of the NDP has resulted in the metaphoric tail wagging the dog, with dangerous consequences. Surely, this foolishness, violence, and wanton lawlessness must stop!
In this regard, the Police and all law-abiding citizens must “put their foot down”. I for one will NEVER allow the crazies and their fellow-travellers to hinder or impede my access to Parliament. I will walk again, as I did on August 5th, if needs be. And let the silly ones blame the victim in his exercise of his rights!