28 May, 2010
The fundamental right to protection from slavery and forced labour. This is the third of our fundamental rights enshrined in the 1982
Anguilla Constitution. The protection is found at section 4. It reads simply,
Protection from slavery and forced labour
4. (1) No person shall be held in slavery or servitude.
(2) No person shall be required to perform forced labour.
So, unlike in the olden days, no one in
Anguilla can be forced to work for the government, or for any other person. Constitutional rights are rights which are enforceable against the government. We do not have any Constitutional rights against another Anguillian. If another Anguillian locks me up and beats me if I do not work for him, I cannot bring a constitutional case against him. I would sue him in the ordinary courts.
Constitutional rights are the rights we rely on when our government is taking advantage of us. We may be able to sue our government under this section if it promoted a law, or made an agreement, or gave a lease or an aliens landholding licence, or entered into a Memorandum of Understanding, to a developer permitting that developer to enslave us. It will be interesting to see if this ever develops, won't it?
The old prison sentence we used to see in the days before our Constitution, where a convicted person was sentenced with these words, “You are sentenced to a term of imprisonment at Her Majesty's Prison for ten years with hard labour”, is now no longer legal. Such a sentence would be in conflict with the constitutional protection against forced labour at section 4 of the Constitution. Nowadays, the judge or magistrate is obliged to sentence with the words, “You are sentenced to a term of imprisonment of ten years” with no mention being made of hard labour.
Of course, as with all legal rules, you can expect there will be exceptions. These are set out at the same section 4 of the Constitution. The first exception is very rare, and relates to any labour required in consequence of the sentence or order of the court. So, if I knock down my neighbour's wall, and the court orders me to put it back up, I cannot protest and say that this sentence is submitting me to forced labour. If I want to put the wall back up personally in complying with the order, I cannot complain. But, the criminal punishment of imprisonment with hard labour is gone.
The second exception has to do with hygiene and health. If I am an inmate at Her Majesty's Prison and I am ordered by the warders to clean out my cell, I have to comply. I cannot complain this is in breach of my fundamental rights. The Constitution has made an exception in cases of health and hygiene. It even extends to the maintenance of the place at which I am detained. If the prison roof is leaking and I am ordered to join a maintenance gang to repair the roof, I cannot object on constitutional grounds. The Constitution made an exception for maintenance of the place where I am detained.
The third exception applies to members of a disciplined force in performance of his duties. If I am a member of the police force, or the defence force, if we had one, and I was ordered by my superior officer to engage in any labour pursuant to my duties, I would not have the right to protest that I was being made to engage in forced labour. This is an exception specifically permitted by the Constitution.
The final exception is also very rare. It has to do with declarations of states of emergency. When a state of emergency is declared, the Constitution allows all our fundamental rights to be thrown out of the window. So, if, in a state of emergency, the authorities find that my labour is reasonably justifiable in the circumstances of the situation arising or existing during the state or emergency for the purpose of dealing with the situation, they may require me to perform compulsory labour. You can imagine a situation where, in a state of emergency declared after a Hurricane, the authorities go to a village and round up all the men and tell them they are obliged to clear the roads of fallen trees. Any man resisting might be arrested and locked up. If he complained that he had been obliged to submit to forced labour, and had only resisted in protection of his fundamental right, the court will not have any sympathy for him. If he committed an offence under the State of Emergency Regulations in not assisting with the clear up, he would be convicted and sentenced. The Constitution made this situation a clear exception to our fundamental right to protection from slavery and forced labour.
And, that brings me to the end of what I wanted to tell you about our third fundamental human rights under the 1982 Constitution of Anguilla.