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Judge awards millions to prisoner


Judge awards millions to prisoner

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CASTRIES, St Lucia – A High Court judge has ordered the state to pay eight million dollars in compensation to two prisoners who were incarcerated for decades on the ground that they were unfit to plead due to mental illness.

Court records show that Francis Noel was 36-years-old when he was arrested on December 13, 1987, and charged with grievous harm. He was held on remand until his arraignment on July 20, 1992 when he was found unfit to plead and ordered by the then judge to “be detained at the Royal Gaol until the Governor-General’s pleasure shall be known”.

Records show that Noel remained in jail for 32 tears for an offence that carried a maximum 10-year jail term.

The other prisoner, Anthony Henry, was arrested for a double murder in September 1995 and held on remand pending trial until his arraignment on February 7, 2000.

He too was also found unfit to plead and an order was made for imprisonment at her majesty’s pleasure.

Henry remained in prison until he was discharged unconditionally by the High Court on May 30, 2019. He had been in jail for 24 years.

Justice Godfrey Smith in handing down his ruling this week, said the “State’s detention of the claimants in prison instead of a mental health facility, after being found unfit to plead due to mental illness, without any periodic review of their fitness to plead, is in breach of their protection against inhuman and degrading punishment and reduces their inherent human dignity”.

He said their detention in the facility was also in breach of their right to personal liberty.

Justice Smith ordered that Noel be transferred to a mental health facility and awarded damages of EC$5.03 million for his detention in prison. The judge also awarded EC$3.5 million for his duration in prison.

“Interest is awarded on the respective damages at the rate of six per cent from the date of judgement until payment in full is made. Prescribed costs are awarded to both claimants,” the judge further ruled.

Justice Smith has also noted that St Lucia has failed to ratify the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“This Legislature may wish to consider General Comment 35 on personal liberty from the Human Rights Committee… (that) States parties should revise outdated laws and practices in the field of mental health in order to avoid arbitrary detention.

“The Committee emphasises the harm inherent in any deprivation of liberty and also the particular harms that may result in situations of involuntary hospitalisation. States parties should make available adequate community-based or alternative social care services for persons   with psychosocial disabilities in order to provide less restrictive alternatives to confinement,” the judge noted. (CMC)