Legalization of abortion, euthanasia and prostitution up for debatePOSTED: 08/26/11 12:19 PM
Central Committee presentation about penal code
St. Maarten – Justice Minister Roland Duncan made clear in the central committee of Parliament yesterday that he intends to legalize abortion, euthanasia and prostitution in the new penal code and that he wants to keep control over the conditional release of prisoners. Duncan said that he favors a situation wherein inmates serve their full sentence, instead of just two-third of it.
Duncan had already announced on June 26 in an interview with Eddie Williams on radio Soualiga that he favors legalization of euthanasia and abortion. The Minister’s position deviates from the draft penal code version that was prepared for St. Maarten by legal expert prof. Hans den Doelder.
Duncan said yesterday that he wants to allow abortion and euthanasia under strict conditions that have to be established in separate legislation. The Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor, Cornelius de Weever, has reacted favorably to Duncan’s plans.
“The Minister of Public Health will supervise this. We ask you to agree with these proposals,” Duncan said.
Later on, Duncan also revealed that he wants to legalize prostitution. “Under the current law sex for money is forbidden, in the draft law it is not. We cannot be the big brother of people’s behavior, but we can control the businesses that provide the service,” the Minister said.
In Duncan’s view, businesses will be allowed to operate in prostitution under conditions. “We will allow it under a permit system whereby we are able to control the number of permits, but also the health of the women who work there, and we’ll be able to keep an eye on possible abuse.”
Another change in the penal code is that it allows the courts to put people with mental problems at the government’s disposal. Implementing that article in the law will cost money, Duncan said, because the government will have to build an institution to accommodate these people. “If Parliament decides to put this law in place, it must realize that it must also provide the institution,” Duncan said.
The Minister noted that Aruba had taken this particular article out of the penal code, because the country foresaw that it was unable to handle the financial consequences. “We are looking at acquiring a building for this purpose, but a purchase-proposal has not been made yet,” Duncan said.
Duncan said that his proposal to establish higher punishments for crimes committed against tourists is not discriminatory. “It is a message to tourists that we take our tourism industry seriously,” he said. The Minister has asked Attorney General Dick Piar, who attended yesterday’s meeting together with Chief Prosecutor Hans Mos, to give an instruction to the prosecutor’s office about the higher punishments for crimes committed against tourists. “Based on that, the prosecutor’s office has to take it into account in its demand. The court is still free to decide upon the actual punishment, but it will be forces to consider this,” Duncan said. “Tourists have a special place in St. Maarten; they are our life blood.”
Prof. den Doelder made a brief presentation to the central committee. “Changes to the penal code are necessary for the law to comply with international treaties,” he said, adding that the changes are not that dramatic.
One of the changes concerns the possibility of conditional release. The draft contains an article that makes conditional release of prisoners automatic as soon as they have served two-third of their sentence, unless the Justice Minister, based on advice from relevant stakeholders like the prison and the parole board, objects.
“That decreases the power of the executive branch and increases the rule of law,” den Doelder said. “These decisions must stay as much as possible out of the hands of politicians; they belong in the hands of the judiciary. It gives inmates legal security and will result in more rest in the prison.”
The draft law contains a long list of conditions that can be attached to a conditional release. “It is a better solution for the society,” Den Doelder said.
Minister Duncan however, said that he disagrees with this proposal: his position is that criminals must serve their whole sentence before they are entitled to release. “I object to taking these decisions out of politicians’ hands,” he said. “The buck stops here.”
Den Doelder however, maintained that, “It is not up to the executive power to re-judge a case. That’s up to the judiciary.”
He added that serving two-thirds of a sentence is very long. “In many countries it is much shorter. We are not being mild here, it is very severe to ask people to serve two third of their sentence. If you let them serve the full sentence they are released into the society without any conditions. The advantage of the conditional release system is that you keep more control over people who have a sentence to their name.”
Parliamentarians treaded carefully when they asked questions. MP Ruth Douglas seemed to have trouble pronouncing the word abortion and referred almost consistently to “the procedure.” Douglas, a physician and a declared opponent of abortion, said that legalizing “the procedure” would lead to increased irresponsible behavior.” She cited examples of girls who had been to her practice more than five times to ask for an abortion.
Minister Duncan did not answer the barrage of detailed questions Douglas posed, saying that abortion itself (and euthanasia) would have to be regulated in a separate national ordinance, and that in-depth questions belonged to the debate about that legislation.
Fellow physician Lloyd Richardson, who is personally against abortion, but concedes that there are situations wherein individuals ought to be able to make that choice, noted that it is “virtually impossible to control what we put on paper,” referring to easy access for abortion to doctors on the French side and on surrounding islands.