We must respect the rights of detained people
By way of full disclosure, I have on occasion been the personal attorney for Frederick Smith, Q.C., in various matters before the Supreme Court and I consider him a personal friend.
I know that my client, friend and colleague is known to be colorful and passionate in his advocacy. I know that he has a tendency to get under the skin of many. However, it is very important that all citizens, members of the bar and the government hear the message whether or not they care for the messenger.
The well-documented recent events involving Smith at the detention center are cause for alarm. Article 19(2) of the constitution expressly provides that: “Any person who is arrested or detained shall be… permitted, at his own expense, to retain and instruct without delay a legal representative of his own choice and to hold private communication with him.”
“Any person” means exactly that. In other words, alleged “illegal” Haitian nationals too are entitled to have legal representation “without delay”. As citizens and members of the bar we cannot sit idly by and allow this constitutional right to be eroded in any way whatsoever. When we deny individuals access to counsel we are dispensing with the rule of law; and, while it may sound alarmist, this conduct unchecked puts us on the road to being a totalitarian state. We must resist any outright or inadvertent denial of any of our fundamental rights.
I personally do not think that it is the intention of this administration, or indeed, any past administration of government, to move toward being a totalitarian state. I think that it is more a failure to think through the processes carefully and to ensure that the rights of persons detained at the detention center are not abused as they carry out their immigration policy.
Any government of The Bahamas that tackles the immigration issue head-on has the full support of the vast majority of Bahamians. However, with great power comes great responsibility. It is imperative that while the tide of public sentiment is with the government on this issue, it, as the gatekeeper of law and order in our society, should ensure that the fundamental rights of every individual in The Bahamas are not abused and/or disregarded.
The minister of immigration, the attorney general and the government of The Bahamas must immediately make the necessary provisions to ensure that any counsel and attorney who needs to meet with his or her client at the detention center (or anywhere else that the state is detaining an individual) is permitted to do so; and, that they be provided with a place to meet where they can speak privately.
Anything less is a breach of the detained person’s constitutional rights. They must also ensure that those entrusted with carrying out our laws understand our laws. It is not fair to our men and women in uniform if they are not aware that they cannot deny a detained person access to counsel, as all officers who serve our country deserve our full support. I am certain that if there were an appreciation for the fact that the individual being sought had a constitutional right to see his lawyer, then all efforts would have been made by those in charge at the detention center that day to ensure that Smith met with his client.
As a member of the bar and a concerned citizen I hope that this matter is addressed without delay.
– Janet L.R. Bostwick-Dean