PM should stay out of legal matters
On the campaign trail politicians say outrageous and improper things they think will injure their opponents or sway people to their side. They want to win the election. What needs to be said is said. They worry about the consequences if they are elected.
Dr. Hubert Minnis, in 2016, the year before the election, said one of those outrageous things. He called on the then attorney general to end the prosecution against 10 people charged in relation to destroying a fence on Cabbage Beach during a protest.
Minnis then went further. He said he’d expunge the records of the 10 if he were elected and they were convicted.
The statement was made despite the fact that the prime minister has no legal authority to do such a thing.
On Monday, the former protesters said despite their efforts, they have been unable to reach Minnis.
“At the end of the day, I feel that I was used for political gain,” said Trevor Lightbourne, one of the people charged.
Press Secretary Anthony Newbold said Minnis would live up to his commitment to expunge the records after the media asked about the issue. This was the wrong position for he and Minnis to take.
The matter is before the court. The prime minister should not comment on ongoing cases. He should allow the court to hear the matters and make determinations. To speak during the process gives the impression that the prime minister is attempting to influence the proceedings.
“He should not comment on it at all,” said former Court of Appeal President Dame Joan Sawyer yesterday.
“In fact, to say that if you go to court and you are convicted and I will wipe the record clean is to tell the court, ‘Don’t waste your time; don’t hear the case.’
“You can’t do that either.”
For our democracy to function properly our judiciary must be independent. There is a constitutional separation of powers. Members of the executive and legislature should respect that separation by allowing the court the space to freely do its work.
Members of the executive should not dangle ensuring a record is expunged – by this we presume he means he’d ensure a pardon is granted – over a presiding magistrate or judge.
Noting that Minnis is not a lawyer, Dame Joan said the attorney general should have counseled him.
“That is the attorney general’s main concern, to make sure that the government is kept within the law,” she said.
On Monday, when asked about the issue, Attorney General Carl Bethel said, “I have not heard from their (former protesters) lawyers, and I have nothing to refer to the prosecutors for them to review.
“But at the end of the day, it’s a prosecutorial decision. They have to decide whether they would advise me to take any action.
“If they don’t advise me, then I see no need to intervene with the discretion of the prosecutors who have sight of the file, knowledge of the facts, none of which I have. Attorney generals act on advice and only on advice.”
Bethel, until the new law giving this power to the director of public prosecutions comes into effect, has the legal power to stop the prosecutions. However, he knows it would be improper for him to intervene on his own in politically charged cases such as these. Minnis and other members of the Free National Movement were part of the beach protest.
Minnis is still new to being prime minster. He must learn that as prime minister he should not offer comment on ongoing court cases. Falling in line with this proper practice would prevent him from getting into unnecessary trouble in the future.