by Linda Straker
Attorney at law Derick Sylvester has applauded the decision by the drafters of the Rights and Freedom Bill to grant persons a constitutional right to speak to a lawyer when they are immediately detained by police.
The clause covering this area is contained in the Bill of Rights and Freedom, one of the 7 Bills being proposed for amendment to the constitution when the country votes in a referendum on 24 November.
Persons in Grenada do not presently have the constitutional right to immediately speak to a lawyer when or if detained by law enforcement officers.
“This is one part in that bill that I was pleased to see — because in Grenada we do not have a constitutional right to speak to a lawyer. If you enter most police stations, you will see, you have a right to an attorney at law. However, if speaking to your attorney at law would interfere with the course of the investigation, then you would be denied that right. So it is not an absolute right. It’s a qualified right,” Sylvester explains.
The Bill of Rights and Freedom, which is Bill number 6 on the ballot, covers more than 40 clauses including gender equality; freedom of the press and other media; intellectual property rights; the right to a state-funded education; and to the protection of children.
Sylvester, who has more than 15 years of practice, has recalled instances in the past when he was prevented from seeing his clients because the clients were not qualified to enjoy that right to immediately speak with a lawyer.
According to the law, a person can be detained for up to 48 hours as a suspect, and at the same time be denied the right to speak to an attorney.
“When I saw this in our constitution, to my mind, that is magnanimous. That is excellent,” he said.
“You may never have a family member that may be arrested who may need an attorney, but is only when the shoe is on the other foot is when you recognise the importance. Your right to an attorney will be embedded in the constitution and I believe that will be a happy day for the public,” Sylvester said.
Despite its many benefits to each citizen, the Bill of Rights and Freedoms has become a hotly debated topic because some religious leaders, as well as some social advocates, are claiming that the gender equality clause will provide for the legalisation of same-sex unions.
However, Attorney General Cajeton Hood has said that this is incorrect because the equality speaks to opportunities, such as equal pay for equal work and not to marriage.