PM: Ombudsman’s actions show checks and balances are working

POSTED: 01/31/13 11:49 AM

St. Maarten – The government is looking keenly at the way the Constitutional Court will handle the petition of the Ombudsman for an annulment of three articles in the Penal Code. Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, during yesterday’s Council of Ministers press conference, said that as a High Council of State, the actions of the Ombudsman show that the checks and balances of the country are working.

“It will be interesting to see what the outcome will be. You have a law approved by parliament, and as our constitution provides, the Ombudsman has the opportunity when that office reviews any ordinance, it can be put to the Constitutional Court. As government we look forward with keen interest as to how this is going to develop,” the prime minister said.

The articles that caught Ombudsman Dr. Nilda Arduin’s attention were all approved as part of the Penal Code by Parliament on May 25 of last year and that was signed into law by Governor Eugene Holiday on December 13 of last year. The article that legalizes organized cock fights and the article that imposes higher sentences for crimes committed against tourists could both contravene the constitution, the Ombudsman said at a press conference on Monday afternoon.

It is unclear when the Constitutional Court will deal with the petition. Ombudsman Arduin said that there are no procedures in place for the process. “But we want to get it moving,” she said.

The decision by the Ombudsman is a setback for the Parliament and for Justice Minister Roland Duncan. In May of last year, the Parliament demanded that the minister add an amendment to article 539 that defines cruelty against animals as a crime. This amendment exempted “cultural, organized, structural activities” from punishment.

Ombudsman Arduin pointed out that cruelty against animals is deemed a crime and that the Parliament had apparently overlooked article 665 that deems organizing animal fights without a permit is an offense. The Ombudsman said that the two articles (539 and 665) go hand in hand. “We indicated that based on literature and international standards, animal fights should be considered to be animal cruelty. Both articles should be taken off the books.”

The Ombudsman further petitioned the Constitutional Court to annul paragraph e. of article 2:289. This article specifies crimes committed against a tourist and imposes higher sentences.

“This article may be in contravention of equal rights of persons residing on the island,” the Ombudsman stated with a reference to article 16 of the constitution.

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