New constitution takes limited view on access to information, says human rights lawyer

Dave Holness speaking at Human Rights Awareness Training at the Montserrat Cultural Centre.

LITTLE BAY, Montserrat – Enabling legislation will be necessary to fill in the gaps left in the constitution as it relates to access to information and freedom of expression, says Human Rights lawyer and trainer Dave Holness.

Holness, Director of the University of the KwaZulu-Natal Law Clinic in Durban, South Africa was speaking to members of the media during the final session of the three-day workshop on Human Rights Awareness held at the Montserrat Cultural Centre.

The lawyer said he believes the recently passed constitution which is now under review with the UK Privy Council has a very limited view on Freedom of Expression and access to information. In the absence of this, he said government should pass enabling legislation which will empower persons who wish to exercise their right to freedom of expression.

Peter Ashman of the Commonwealth Foundation, who facilitated the workshop said there is a vast difference between the island’s new constitution clause in Part 1, section 13 -2 which reads “reasonably justifiable” and the European Convention on Human Rights which reads “necessary justifiable.” He added that persons who wished to take a matter to the European Court of Human Rights must first have exhausted all local avenues before making such a request. This could be done without a lawyer, Ashman said as the ECHR had lawyers who would be assigned to handle the case.

“Building Human Rights Capacity in the British Overseas Territories,” was the theme of the workshop funded by the UK Department for International Development, and carried out by the Commonwealth Foundation. The workshop is part of a project to enable Overseas Territories to observe human rights obligations in a way that is consistent with international standards.

Holness said he found elements of good faith in the language used in Section 18 and 19 of the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Individual in the constitution. “Power was given not to elected officials but to your governor during periods of emergency.” He added that history has shown as in South Africa where he is from, that leaders have declared state of emergencies and used it as an opportunity to “abuse people’s rights.”

Ashman noted that the new constitution had merged the ombudsman into a complaint’s commission but said there must be a policy to provide an adequate budge to the commission for it to function effectively. Members of the media noted that the previous clause in the ombudsman section on providing a budget had been removed without an explanation given.

Ashman is scheduled to be back on island in January to do follow-ups with local counterparts and the various organizations which participated in the workshop.

Bennet Roach, Editor of The Montserrat Reporter thanked the facilitators and the organizers from creating an avenue through which persons can learn more about their human rights. He said he hoped that civil society will serve as the springboard for further action in this area to the benefit of the Montserrat.

Photos of the event can be seen on the Spirit of Montserrat Facebook Page – Week in Pictures.



Holness, Director of the University of the KwaZulu-Natal Law Clinic in Durban, South Africa (GIU Photo)

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