Antiguan Lawyer Questions Authority of Prison Boss

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Tuesday 19th June, 2018 –An Attorney at law is calling on the Bar Association to make a pronouncement on a decision by the Prison Superintendent to release a Texan woman who was serving a one year sentence for ammunition that was discovered in her luggage.

Shannon Martinez was arrested last week as she prepared to leave Antigua following a vacation with her family and was charged and subsequently received a one-year jail sentence.

But it was what happened after that has sparked a debate on whether the Deputy Commissioner Albert Wade had the power to sanction the release of the American woman who spent approximately one day in prison.

In a letter to the Bar Association, Attorney Nellen Murdoch wrote “It is my considered opinion that this action is and must be understood to be an attack on the very fabric of democracy.”

She detailed that “the PM was very specific to say that he had no comment on the magistrate who did what she had to do, however he repeated that he agreed with the action taken afterwards regarding the woman.

His agreement was based on the facts of the case which I gather were that the woman was found with some bullets (it appeared to be a small number) in her bag when she was leaving Antigua after being here on holiday. She has no history of crime either in the US from which she traveled or in Antigua. Her explanation is that she forgot to remove them from her bag when travelling to Antigua from the States. Additionally, having these in her bag in the States would not have been an offence.”

“The PM said that in view of the trivial nature of the matter he agreed that she should have been released. He also made statements that keeping her in prison could also have led to a diplomatic incident, (not that they were acting on a complaint on such an incident, he stated) but in light of this he agreed with the action taken.”

“My concern is that there are several grave issues raised by this matter.

It is not the purview of the Superintendent of the Prison or the Minister of Legal Affairs to commute or quash sentences. That is the singular purview of the courts, no matter what the circumstances. That this action was taken so casually is a serious slap in the face of the court and a very serious erosion of the court’s jurisdiction. It is also a total violation of the separation of powers principle.”

Attorney General the Hon. Steadroy Benjamin has reportedly said the Superintendent of Prisons acted within the law.

The Antiguan lawyer opined that “no one should be permitted to erode the constitutional norms and principles as has been done in this case.”

“We have a duty as attorneys to protect the administration of justice, the courts and the Constitution from incursion.

It is my considered opinion that this action is and must be understood to be an attack on the very fabric of democracy.

It therefore means that as gatekeepers of our functioning democracy we as a Bar Association must act and act swiftly in relation to this matter.

I am trusting therefore that the Bar Executive will promptly and immediately issue a public statement regarding this matter and the Bar’s concern about the same.”