28 April, 2008

Mercy Committee

Advisory Commission on the Prerogative of Mercy. This is the last commission that falls to be provided for in Anguilla's new Constitution when it comes to be drafted. It is sometimes called the “Mercy Committee”.

Such a Commission does not exist strictly for the enforcement of a fundamental right. Mercy is not a right. However, it is recognised in all civilised societies that sometimes conditions affecting a prisoner change. It is then appropriate, in suitable circumstances, for society to show mercy. There is no reason why mercy should be applicable only in cases of the death penalty. We do not have a death penalty. We have prisoners. Some of them may well, one day, deserve an element of mercy.

Lawyers refer to it as the “Queen's prerogative of mercy”. It is not a personal attribute of the Queen. It is an aspect of society acting, at the highest impersonal level, in the interests of the community. The Queen is merely a convenient legal fiction for this concept.

At present, there is no mercy committee provided for in the Constitution. The Governor represents “the Queen” in Anguilla. He may or may not exercise the prerogative of mercy from time to time. It is not known how or when he does it. There are no published reports or statistics. This is recognised by all Anguillians as a most objectionable state of affairs. It needs to be corrected. Governors must find the personal responsibility oppressive. Everyone wants the situation corrected.

Fortunately, we do not have to re-invent the wheel. The Virgin Islands have a most acceptable provision in their new VI Constitution 2007. It is section section 44. There is no reason I can think of why we should not be able to adopt it wholesale.

We have now looked at several Commissions. Some of them already exist. Others would be new. The big change would be making them independent of the Governor and the Ministers. Giving them real responsibilities and powers.

Each of them performs a vital job. That does not mean that we need to make government top heavy with Commissions. There are several steps we could take to prevent this.

We could double up the personnel on each Commission, and to provide that only one stipend was payable, no matter how many Commissions an individual served on.

Membership of one Commission could be dependent on agreement to serve on other Commissions.

Most Commissions should incur little or no expense to the public.

Independent oversight bodies are vital. they provide an essential function in a democratic society. They constitute checks and balances on the Governor and the Ministers. We must ensure that they are put in place if we are to guarantee the protection of our rights and liberties as we move into the new era of increased self-government.

1 comment:

  1. Don, could a "mercy committee" be simply an appeals court/ordinary jury pool, and be fair in anguilla? Maybe a local, then a colonial process? But then again, that's what you're trying to get away from. Unless well overseen, it sounds like a "legal" means to exonerate or pardon the guilty that are well connected . The law is not enforced equally, in Anguilla or even the U.S. What would be forgivable crimes under which such a committee might preside? Don't get me wrong, I believe a stupid choice should not damn one forever, unless it involves serious violence/death. The youth of Anguilla are hungry, not for food, but for recognition and a pocket full of dollars. In my mind, the ones that don't hurt anyone in this pursuit of illegal activities should be smacked and released. For those that maim or kill, go to the rock. - Scotty


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