THE issue surrounding Criminal Record Rehabilitation was a major subject under review, when legislators met in the house, this week.
The Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) (Amendment) Act sought to expunge convictions for misdemeanors and upend criminal records.
Concerns were also expressed over the COVID-19 (Prevention and Control) (Amendment) Act, taking into account minor public infringements committed, at the time.
While presenting the bill, Prime Minister Philip J Pierre stated that this amendment was in response to a cry from members of the public including young persons about the difficulty in obtaining ‘police records’ of character for employment prospects and travel purposes after having been charged for minor offences.
“The bill seeks to amend the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act and makes provisions for certain criminal types of offenders to become ‘spent’ and to be expunged from the records,” he said
Pierre reiterated that, “criminal records are being used in society and they prevent persons from holding a job and sometimes obtaining a license or even obtaining a visa.”
He added: “Having a criminal record expunged, allows the person to put the past behind and get a second chance in life. As the stigma attached to a criminal record is removed, leaving the person with a clear court record.”
The Prime Minister said this would “make this new life possible, by establishing a Rehabilitation Offenders Board that has the statutory power of determining whether a conviction can be expunged or not.”
He explained that in order for a conviction to be expunged, “it must be spent and not carry a term of imprisonment exceeding three years or a non-custodial sentence.”
Consequently, said Pierre, a convicted person must satisfy the requirements contained in the Act and having regard to the rehabilitation period contained in the Act.
He further stated that a person must meet the requirements under the Act before submitting an application for conviction to be expunged to the Rehabilitation Of-fenders Board. In relation to a person serving a sentence, a ‘pardon’ from the Governor General must be granted before the sentence can be expunged.
Pierre disclosed that persons who have been convicted under the COVID-19 Prevention and Control Act, and some “simple possession” of cannabis or cannabis resin of 30 grams or less under the Drugs (Prevention and Misuse) Act “will be expunged through the exemption by the minister.”
The Prime Minister made reference to the role of the Minster for Justice in this latter exercise.
“We believe that the COVID situation took people by shock, it took them by surprise …and we believe that if they broke the law and they were convicted, you cannot hold it in their record forever,” he declared.
Pierre further indicated that the public will soon be in-formed of the bill that “will decriminalize marijuana use or small uses of marijuana. And that amendment will have its first reading and the second reading , which I can assure you will not be long…will be ap-proved by this parliament, if the parliament approves.”
Member of Parliament for Choiseul, Bradley Felix, in-quired as to the authority of the Rehabilitation Offend-ers Board in contrast to the powers granted to the Minister of Justice.
Expressing concerns over the new Act, Felix opined: “It seems to remove the authority to expunge the records from a board.”
He said “it was kind of dangerous …since it seems to water down the law .Its taking away the authority from a Rehabilitation Board to put it into the hands of an in-dividual (minister). This could be subjective and I think it can be very dangerous.”
Minister for Education and MP for Dennery North, Shawn Edward, added his support for the bill: “I be-lieve this is bold move. I believe the move is courageous and I believe this proposed amendment is rooted in the ‘election mantra’ of the St Lucia Labour Party – Putting People First.”
Edward, a former Youth and Sports Minister in a previous SLP government complained about the scores of young men incarcerated at the Bordelais Correctional Facility (BCF) for minor offences. He was particularly concerned over the hundreds of able bodied young men on remand at the BCF for misdemeanors.
“The bill is not meant to condone illegality or crime, but we are saying in our society today, there are young persons who may have been afoul of the law …and for minor infractions, their reputations are forever tarnished,” he noted.
Edward added, “This proposed amendment is giving a second chance to persons who would have committed minor infractions of the law.”