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Introduction of bail eyed as part of conditional release in new penal code St. Maarten

FRIDAY, 13 APRIL 2012

PHILIPSBURG–The introduction of bail as part of the conditional release of suspects to reduce flight risk has been suggested to parliament by Justice Minister Roland Duncan in “a note of change” submitted to Parliament as part of the review of the Penal Code.

The Central Committee of Parliament continued deliberations on the code Thursday. The modernization of the code has been pending since the days of the Netherlands Antilles. Parliament has been perusing the amendments to the code since mid 2011.

Explaining his reason for wanting to institute a bail system, Duncan told Members of Parliament (MPs) there is nothing to stop a suspect from fleeing off island or even to the French side when released. No treaty for the monitoring of suspects on conditional release is in place with the French side. For that reason also, several prisoners with French nationality or residence serving sentences in Pointe Blanche are not coming into consideration for early release, Duncan said.

With the bail system, a financial loss will be attached to the suspect/prisoner not turning up for hearing or community service. While tagging a financial loss will not solve the problem of suspects/prisoners fleeing the island, it would help the situation, the minister said.

Another note of change submitted for Parliament’s consideration is Duncan’s request to not make early release automatic by keeping the present system where early release is at the discretion of the minister on a case by case basis.

The revised Penal Code calls for automatic early release of all prisoners. Duncan pointed out that The Netherlands is seeking to implement the same system as is currently in place here. “If you do the crime, you have to do the time.”

The New Penal Code while “ambitious” has some draw backs because the Justice Ministry can’t “financially and physically” meet some requirements of several articles at this time, Duncan reiterated to MPs. These are related to Article 17, and requires that a judicial institution be established for treatment of mentally ill criminals and Article 83 for a youth supervision facility. Both institutions require special facilities and trained personnel.

Duncan recommended that the two articles be kept in the Penal Code and a note be added stating that these will be implemented at a later date. Aruba has kept in the two articles in its Penal Code with a similar note.

A plan is already in the works for the youth facility. This is connected to the acquisition of “The Box” in Cay Hill.

Duncan and his fellow Justice Ministers of Aruba and Curaçao have explored joint or shared services centred in Curaçao. This is not seen as a viable option for St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius because of the distance between here and Curaçao and difference in culture.

Abortion

The revised code prohibits anyone from assisting in an abortion and euthanasia. Duncan, as has been stated before, wants to allow these two procedures with strict conditions to regulate an already occurring practice, especially related to abortions. A note of change to the code that will allow these procedures will be submitted by the minister.

“As a modern society, we need to do it,” Duncan said, adding that abortion is legal on the French side and women who need one can simply cross the border. He added that while he “recognises the religious and moral issues,” MPs need to deal with modernizing the law.

Abortions need to be allowed in special cases such as when there is a danger to the mother’s life, a pregnancy due to incest or rape, he noted. By allowing the procedure under strict conditions, the minister said the issue of abortions being performed very late into the pregnancy will also be addressed.

Several MPs called for the two subjects to be discussed behind closed doors before going to the public for input. They raised concerns about the proper monitoring of the women going for abortions, the need for counselling and putting a limit on the number of abortions a woman can have.

Illegals and tourists

The draft Penal Code also regulates that foreign prisoners who are in the country illegally with a sentence of five or more years must complete their sentence. Duncan said this would send a strong message to any criminal who believes that they can come into the country, commit crimes and get lenient sentences. “I recognise we have a cell problem, but I don’t want St. Maarten to become a revolving door [for criminals].” The Netherlands is also considering the same approach.

Dealing with the need to assign additional punishment for crimes against a tourist/visitor, Duncan said this is “a bona fide move to protect our economy. It is not an attempt to put tourists above anyone else.” He pointed out that there are already articles in the Criminal Code that prescribes extra punishment for crimes against the queen, governor, a parent who hits a child or an abusive spouse.

Cockfighting

On the issue of animal “sports” such as cockfighting, Duncan wants to see Parliament allow it with permits and proper rules. “We have to face the circumstances and deal with it” considering that cock fighting is legal on the French side.

The stance of outlawing cockfighting and other such sports by the animal welfare groups is “highly appreciated” by the minister. However, he added that they “must not only say no, no, no, but come up with guidelines to regulate it.” He urged MPs to see if there is a need to regulate animal sports or to keep it outlawed.

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