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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Lord have mercy

Dr Frances Chandler, [email protected]

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Lord have mercy

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“LORD HAVE mercy on us”, because our Privy Council’s Mercy Committee certainly isn’t having any. If the release of prisoners continues at the present rate, Senator Dr David Durant may indeed get his wish that 50 prisoners be released “as a gesture of compassion to mark the 50th anniversary of Barbados’ Independence”. But we might ask “compassion toward whom?” Certainly not the relatives of their victims.

We asked for a speeding up of the justice system, but we didn’t mean speeding up the release of those convicted for the most heinous crimes, especially since they’ve already been shown compassion by avoiding the death penalty.

If the Committee wanted to free up some space in Dodds, couldn’t they have selected those imprisoned for less serious crimes?

One of those released is reported to have been described by the judge at the time of his trial as having “demonstrated a cold-blooded, indifferent approach to a fellow human being and had practised a cruel deception on the family . . . ”. The Court of Appeal later deemed him “a danger to society” and noted there had been no mitigating features in the case. Another prisoner is apparently to be released shortly. On what grounds could these possibly have been selected for release?

Does the Mercy Committee have mercy on the victims and their families? Has any one of them ever experienced similar events in their families? What are the criteria for granting these releases? Can these be published? Although a few committee members have been named, are all willing to be identified publicly?

It takes several witnesses, a judge, a prosecutor, attorneys and a jury to convict a murder accused; how many people are currently deciding on their release? Furthermore, will there be any electronic monitoring of these individuals after release?

Some people (like the “distinguished retirees” quoted in the March 22 DAILY NATION) have from time to time asked for various parts of our Constitution to be changed. Well, if this “mercy thing” is in our Constitution, wouldn’t it be better to advocate for it to be changed rather than promoting a change to get rid of the Queen?

Apparently the mercy panel is not subject to court challenge. Doesn’t that seem a bit dangerous? Isn’t this type of decision important enough that the whole population should have a say – as in a referendum? I note in Ireland, which apparently has several referenda per year, they ask the opinion of the entire population for something as simple as reducing the minimum age for the president. Isn’t this prisoner release situation more important?

Another thing – maybe the Mercy Committee could consider releasing the Lord from Dodds. As a colleague asked me last week “where would you go first if you wanted to meet the Lord?” When I hesitated with an “. . . hmmm . . .” , he replied: “Dodds of course . . . haven’t you noticed that those released always say they found the Lord in prison, so I suppose he must reside there.”

I can’t remember who said it, but I’m sure I heard it said recently that you can’t pay public officers based on productivity. Why not? If that system were used, I wonder how many would be eligible for increases?

And where is the money going to come from to pay these increases? Not from additional taxes from the strikers as well as everyone else? Does this make sense?

Finally, I propose David Ellis for Speaker of the House. I have long since expressed the view that the Speaker should not be one of those elected to the Government. That way, we should reduce the possibility of biased rulings.

Mr Ellis did a wonderful job of moderating a civilised discussion between the Minister of Finance and the Opposition Leader on a Down To Brass Tacks show last week. It was an auspicious occasion indeed. However, as many would no doubt agree, it’s frightening to learn the Minister is not au fait with all Cabinet decisions.

• Dr Frances Chandler is a former independent senator. Email: [email protected]