Letters & Opinion

Law Reform in St Lucia: A Lethargic Approach

By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E.

I have no doubt in my mind that there is a lacklustre approach to law reform in St Lucia. There are scores of areas of communal life that require urgent reformation; but very little is happening in that regard, or things are just not happening quickly enough.

According to Matilda Marcia Katopola, a former Clerk of Parliament, in an article entitled, “The Role of Law Reform in Strengthening Legislative Processes: The Malawi Experience”, “The importance of law reform in strengthening the legislative processes cannot be over-emphasized. Law reform contributes to the shaping of democracies to suit changing political and legal environments and the benefits are enormous. Most importantly, laws need to be reformed to adapt to societal changes while adhering to constitutional norms and principles”.

Very early I wish to refer to American norms as they relate to American laws. The American people adhere strictly to their laws. Indeed, no one is above the law: not friend, not family or acquaintance, or even the president of the United States himself.

Just a few nights ago, I listened to House Managers laying out the Abuse of Power case against the President of the United States

During the laying out of the Abuse of Power Case, a House Manager of the US Senate had this to say: “If your constitution does not protect you, then right does not matter anymore”.

The phrase “right does not matter anymore” is very deep and revealing!

So seriously do Americans uphold their laws that when there is a gap in the law, or the law is silent on a matter, or there is an important matter to be dealt with which requires parliamentary approval, the US congress will go all night to draft, debate and pass the law. By 3:00 a.m. that law will be at the White House, on the desk of the president for his assent or signing. Indeed, by the time the nation arises, a new law is already in force.

It’s not just America. Just a few days ago French firemen clashed with police during a demonstration in Paris over working conditions. There seems to have been a ‘gap’ in the French laws. The law makers went to the parliament immediately to fix the laws.

But what is the situation in St Lucia?

Let us begin with an ‘old Story’. For several years now the nation has been grappling with the issue of cows roaming along the Castries/Gros Islet highway, particularly near the St James Morgan Bay Resort. Cows have been killed, people have been maimed as a result of motor vehicle accidents in that area, and the cows continue on their merry way. If there are laws to address that situation, then the laws have no ‘teeth’, and must be strengthened. This is a situation that has gone on for far too long.

Then there are the laws relating to traffic that need to be addressed. There are lots of traffic violations. Our people are being maimed on the streets of our country. Many young cyclists are dying on our roads and streets because of careless driving. Drivers have long been complaining about the delay in issuing the renewal of their licences. But very little or nothing is happening in this regard.

Then I often hear the opposition and law-abiding St Lucians lamenting the procedure as it relates to the awarding of government contracts and the procurement system of government. But what makes the lamentations more ridiculous is the fact that members of the opposition in the parliament of St Lucia are themselves lawmakers. And they seem to be powerless in dealing with those matters.

Then there is the problem of the non-appointment of a Deputy Speaker in the Parliament of St Lucia; a place where obedience to the laws of the land should begin and is paramount. But the laughter of that situation is that the Prime Minister had to be taken to court on such the simple matter of the appointment of a deputy speaker.

Then we come to the matter of firearms and gun laws. It is easier to acquire a gun than it is for a poor mother to buy a pound of sugar to feed starving children. St Lucia is experiencing some of the most sophisticated firearms in any armoury anywhere in the world. Sometimes we even make mistakes in differentiating the guns.

Then we have the issue of declaration of assets by parliamentarians and senior public servants that the law says must be done annually. The Integrity in Public Life Act, Section 11 (3) requires that parliamentarians disclose their assets annually, to be certified by the Parliamentary Commissioner. To be honest, I know of only one parliamentarian who has met the requirements of Section 11 (3) of Integrity in Public Life. I am not saying that there are not others who have been disclosed. All I am saying is that I had the opportunity of seeing one that was signed by the Parliamentary Commissioner in August of 2019. It means therefore that the law relating to the Integrity of Public Life only has a ‘tooth’ but no ‘teeth’.

Then we come to the matter of the Education Act and the number of issues to be addressed in the Education System. There is the issue of School Dropouts; the issue of Truancy; there is the issue of the use of textbooks in school, and the issue of the introduction of Teaching Service Regulations. In fact, I have only just scratched the surface in education!

Finally, we now have some serious issues to be addressed as they relate to English Law versus St Lucia Law which arose from the case of Parliamentarian Ernest Hilaire versus the Prime Minister of St Lucia. The implication here is that there is much to be done in law reform in St Lucia. It also means that we can no longer be lethargic in our approach to law reform in St Lucia. There is much to be done in strengthening the legislative processes. Law makers in St Lucia have their work well cut-out in 2020 and beyond.

There is so much to be done and to be done quickly to put our democracy firmly in the most desirable shape in a harsh political and legal environment.

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