Director of Public Prosecution, Gene Pestaina, has said that the law of Dominica does not appear to expressly prevent a peaceful political procession held by a constitutionally recognized political organization established under the laws of the island.
Pestaina was giving the reason why his office decided to discontinue a case against eight members of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) charged for demonstrating outside Parliament in November 2010.
The party members who faced charges were Opposition Leader, Hector John, Ron Green, Claudius Sanford and UWP political leader, Edison James. Other members of the party who were charged were Ezekiel Bazil, Norris Charles, Ronni Isidore and Danny Lugay.
The matter was discontinued by the DPP when those charged appeared before a Roseau Magistrate on Friday August 10.
In a prepared statement Pestaina said he had “perused two reports from the police which emanate from the holding of an alleged unlawful public procession on Monday November 26, 2010 by members of the UWP.”
He stated that the principal objective and purpose of the Public Order Act is the maintenance of law and order during the holding of certain public processions and the Commissioner of Police is empowered by that Act to grant or refuse permission to hold such public processions.
Pestaina explained that the law does not appear to expressly exempt the feature of a peaceful political procession by a constitutionally recognized political organization established under the laws of Dominica. This he said is particularly so since attaining independence status in 1978 and the learning and interpretation of the constitutional provisions following the convention in respect of European Human Rights Privileges.
“There is nothing in the Police Reports to indicate that the Commissioner of police, prior to the date on which the peaceful demonstration was held, adopted a proactive role in ensuring that the persons who were eventually charged had obtained the necessary permit, if such permit was required. It also bears nothing that there are no implementing regulations to guide the Commissioner of Police in the administration of the Public Order Act,” the DPP said.
According to him, “it has always been good police practice, with respect to the prevention of crime that the Commissioner of Police, or any member of the Police Force for that matter, should have communicated with persons planning to hold a public demonstration. It is unacceptable for Officers to have been detailed to chaperone members of the public along the public road in a planned public demonstration and to subsequently prefer charges for not having had permission to do so.”
The need he said for such dialogue as indicated is even greater where the organizers of a procession would include the holder of “the constitutional Office of the Leader of the Opposition,” according to Pestaina.
“In the circumstances, the public interest in this case requires the discontinuance of the said charges against the defendants. And I act accordingly,” Pestaina wrote.
Speaking to the media leader of the UWP Edison James said he always knew that the matter was “politically motivated” and it’s part of the dictatorial manner of the Skerrit administration and he always knew that they were on the right track and had done nothing wrong in violation of the laws of Dominica.
Action was taken by the police months after the UWP and several of its supporters gathered outside the House during a parliament session on November 29, 2010 with placards, to show their dissatisfaction with a decision taken by Alix Boyd-Knights, speaker of the House of Assembly, to disallow five of the opposition’s questions in the House.
The UWP said it was angered that its questions meant for government ministers were ruled out of order.
Then Police chief, Cyril Carrette, said the organisers of the demonstration disobeyed the Public Order Act, which states that permission must be granted for the holding of any public procession.
The Public Order Act describes a “public procession” as “any march, demonstration or procession in a public place” and any person must seek permission from the Police Commissioner at least three days before the event is held. Anyone found guilty of an offense against the Act is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $10,000 or six months behind bars.