Letters

Can an evacuation order be enforced by arrest and conviction?

Dear Editor,

While the debate on the Evacuation Bill continues in Parliament, some have questioned what could happen if a resident ordered to leave an unsafe area refuses to do so. The consequences of refusing to obey a proper and legal evacuation order was considered by the Privy Council in Commissioner of Police vs. Cavanaugh (Montserrat) 2005 UKPC 28. This was a case in which a person refused to be evacuated and was arrested, charged and fined in Montserrat in the light of a volcanic eruption.

After a trial in the Magistrate’s Court and then an appeal to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, the matter was referred to the Privy Council in London. The council found as follows:

“In the present case, at the end of September and the beginning of October 2002, the volcano was in a highly active phase. As a result, on October 7, 2002, the governor met the residents of the area affected by this activity, which included Old Towne and directed them to evacuate the area, beginning on October 8. Over the two days, October 8 and 9, nearly all the residents of the area were moved out and were accommodated in shelters in a safe area. However, the respondent, Brian Cavanaugh, refused to leave.

“On October 9, the governor went on ZJB Radio Montserrat to announce that he had signed an order, which was to take effect from 6 p.m. the same day. The order in question was the Emergency Powers (Unsafe Areas) Order 2002 (SRO 49 of 2002) (the 2002 order), which the governor purported to make by virtue of his power, under regulation 5(1) of the Principal Regulations, to declare an area to be an unsafe area. Regulation 2 of the 2002 order defined what were henceforth to be the unsafe areas. It is unnecessary to describe those areas in detail since it is now common ground that Old Towne lies inside one of those areas.

“On December 23 and 24, the police again approached him and asked him to leave, but he refused to do so. On December 24, he was accordingly arrested. The charge against him was that on December 24, 2002, at Old Towne in the colony of Montserrat without proper authorization, he was found in an unsafe area, to wit, Old Towne, contrary to regulation 5(2) (b) of the Principal Regulations as amended.

“In the present case, Old Towne was within one of the areas declared to be unsafe areas in the order which the governor made on October 9, 2002. Therefore on December 24, 2002, the respondent was found in an unsafe area contrary to regulation 5(2) (b) of the Principal Regulations. It follows that he committed an offense and that the senior magistrate was right to convict him of a contravention of that regulation.”

As a result of this ruling, his conviction and his fine of $1,000.00, or in default, his sentence of 30 days in prison, were confirmed.

For what it’s worth.

 

– Anthony Thompson

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