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rainbow ruler   :  Archive   :  1996   :  BM Judicial Sep 1996


Judicial CP - September 1996

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The Royal Gazette, Hamilton, 10 September 1996

Edness: Birch bag-snatchers

By Marcus Day

Public Safety Minister Quinton Edness yesterday called for handbag-snatchers to be birched.

He also recommended the birch for robbers who targeted taxi drivers.

Mr. Edness said it should be added to any other penalty meted out by judges, such as hard labour.

"It is time for action," he declared, branding bag-snatchers "monsters".

"The community needs to take a tough stand against these crimes by supporting tough penalties."

His call follows a wave of bag-snatching and taxi robberies.

Over the weekend, the bag-snatching epidemic -- whose victims are mainly visitors -- continued with three thefts and one bungled attempt.

Taxi drivers have also become targets, causing some to carry weapons, including metal pipes.

In one of the worst recent incidents, a 49-year-old cabbie was stabbed in the neck after picking up two men on Victoria Street.

The driver, who was helped by a passing motorist, was taken to hospital where he received stitches.

Yesterday, Mr. Edness said bag-snatching was an attack on Bermuda's economy because it singled out visitors.

"People don't seem to understand that if we don't have a zero tolerance policy against such crime, that in ten or 15 years we won't have any business here.

"The benches and indeed politicians need the support and trust of society to apply the birch and other deterrents."

He added: "Purse-snatching is a cowardly crime where young men, probably driven by a need for money to buy drugs, sneak up behind an unsuspecting woman.

"That's the kind of crime where they should be birched. It is cowardly and has the potential to destroy our economy.

"Why should people come to Bermuda if this happens to them? News about purse-snatching will spread around North America in a hurry, and that is what these monsters are doing to our economy."

Mr. Edness -- a former opponent of corporal punishment -- said the birch should be tacked on to other punishments, including prison, fines and hard labour.

"This wouldn't need a change in the law, because the birch is already on the statute books.

"It just needs the magistrates or judges to order it to be administered."

Mr. Edness believed there was public backing for the birch.

"That is the feedback I've been getting from people. You only have to listen to talk shows, and you will hear that is what people want. They are tired of this type of crime."

When Mr. Edness first suggested bringing back the birch last month, he provoked a strong response from the Opposition.

Shadow Health and Social Services Minister Renee Webb branded him a "barbarian".

"He should be ashamed of himself -- violence is on the increase in Bermuda and it's a travesty for a Government minister to advocate violence like the beating of adults. Violence begets violence and that's a fact."

Ms Webb said the birch -- like capital punishment for murder -- was not a deterrent from crime.

She added Government had already sanctioned the beating of children under the new Education Act.

And she accused the United Bermuda Party of failing to introduce more humane anti-crime measures like prison rehabilitation schemes.

Corpun file 0330a at

Mid-Ocean News, Hamilton, 13 September 1996

"I didn't reach decision lightly" - Minister

By Alex Barclay

IT'S not about violence -- it's about discipline, said Public Safety Minister Quinton Edness of his recent call to bring back the birch.

"I don't consider this to be a hard line," he said. "I am extremely concerned about Bermuda and what I see happening to it if we don't make some major decisions about crime."

Mr. Edness said the travel advisory issued by Canada about vacationing in Bermuda earlier this week was only the beginning. And he pointed out that Bermuda's economy could be devastated if a warning were issued in the American market.

"Paradoxically, crime is coming down in general, but the problem we have is that these vicious, violent crimes against the person, purse-snatching, assaults, attacks on taxi drivers and so forth, which are all going up. It is appalling."

Mr. Edness said prison and rehabilitation are necessary ingredients in the correction of inmates. But, "in my experience that they have not worked to Government's expectation. Another major form of discipline is needed and I have come to believe that the birch and caning is something that should be added to the mix.

"I didn't come to this decision lightly -- it was very difficult for me to recognise that this was a form of discipline that has its place in this society," he said.

"Whether people agree with me or not I am pleased that they are now talking about finding solutions to the crime problem we are facing. There might be many people who disagree with what I am advocating but would these criminals cowardly prey on people if the cane or birch was levied in the right place?"

And Mr. Edness suggested the whole system need to be toughened up. "Prisoners should be involved in doing hard work in the course of the day, like everyone else has to. And any money they earn should go to the victim as retribution," he said. "The inmates should have to wear a uniform so that people can identify them for what they have done and suffer that embarrassment. And finally depending on their age and crime they should be subjected to the birch or the cane." He also said those convicted of drug related crimes should not be entitled to early release from their sentence.

"People who bring drugs into this country and those who push drugs are destroying our society and our children. There are people now who are systematically -- and this makes me so furious -- going on the campuses of our high schools dealing drugs to children between the ages of 11 and 18-years. This is what we are up against," he said.

"I have worked for many years on the inside talking, like many of my colleagues, trying to get things done. But it is time that we put all of this out into the open and let the public get involved in these discussions so that they can push us the politicians and the other authorities who have a responsibility in this matter to really effectively get things done. The other way, being a nice gentleman, wasn't working."

Presently Mr. Edness said he is in the investigation stage. "I am not just saying 'let's do it', I am looking into how to give the judge or the magistrate the authority to issue it," he said.

"We can't continue to let people feel so insecure. I know neighbourhoods where people have to get in before the sun goes down and they won't even poke their heads out of the door in the night hours because they are petrified.

"You have these boys who have ravaged these areas as a base for drug usage and sales and they are actually taking over the neighbourhoods. Some of these neighbourhoods are becoming so immersed in the culture that there are homes becoming dependent on drug money for their upkeep."

And he said the problem can only get worse, outlining the United Kingdom's strict laws against guns which are being used more often in crimes.

"I don't have all of the answers and I certainly may be wrong in some of the things that I advocate but I believe that we have got to try these things," he said.

Mr. Edness said he had no idea whether his plan would come into action. But, "I believe if the population rises up and makes its influence known to their elected members then I think something will happen," he said.

"My whole purpose is to say what is on my mind and hopefully that will cause a lot of other people to express their opinion. People are really concerned and I am saying that this country and this Government have to be tough on crime."

Mr. Edness predicted that ten to 15 years down the road, if Bermuda follows the same path, the economy will suffer seriously as a result.

But, he said, with effective policing and a community banded together to put an end to the crime wave, the island could regain its peaceful reputation. "If we turn things around we could be seen as one of the safe communities in this hemisphere. And that in itself is going to ensure us the kind of well being and living that we have become accustomed to."

Mr. Edness blamed drugs as the number one reason that Bermuda's violent crime rate has heightened. "Since the early 1970s I have seen this drug thing just over-run us. And, of all of the ideas put forward to combat this, rehabilitation, prevention and treatment, nothing effective has been put into place. As a matter of fact it is my guesstimate that it is just getting worse and contributing substantially to the kind of new violent crime that we are seeing in our society," he said.

"I, like many Bermudians, am fighting for answers and ways we can put an end to this crime."

And he sees educating parents, before children reach a vulnerable age, as the answer.

"We have to spend money and put in a top level parenting programme so that children can be raised with the proper care, attention and discipline that they require to become good citizens.

"We have some of the infrastructure in place, but things like the Child Development Project, need to be enhanced."

He said although the voluntary programme is not new the only parents to become involved are, "already good parents -- those who desperately need it reject it."

Mr. Edness proposed Government assessing all new families and parental instruction be given to parents who are not seen as able to provide the "proper" environment for their children.

The reduction of single parent homes was another point on Mr. Edness' list, particularly for children born out of wedlock.

"I believe that we need to go back to what we had in the early '70s where we were building prevention programmes sending trained counsellors to teach young Bermudian girls who were reaching their sexually active years the importance of not getting themselves pregnant. And then we need to extend this programme to the young males who are impregnating the girls," he said.

"We are creating a lot of single parent homes and many of them are becoming dysfunctional -- particularly those where children are having children which is happening far more than what society is aware of."

He credited the work accomplished by Teen Services in both counselling pregnant girls and in prevention. But he said, it has to be an effort coordinated with parents and teachers.

Mr. Edness added: "I don't want to give the impression that all single parent homes are dysfunctional because that is not true. But we have to recognise the fact that far too many of these homes are dysfunctional. And in many cases, not all, it is because the males are not contributing the right amount to the care and upbringing of these children. For the most part the bulk of the burden is on the mother who, in many instances, cannot cope and the children run rampant around our streets and they find themselves being sucked into the drug world and the negative sub-cultures who prey on children."

Schools also need more support when dealing with unruly children, he said. And he highlighted the need for alcohol and drug free zones around Bermuda's schools. "This is called giving more protection to our children. I would really like to see a much higher priority placed on our children.

"I believe that we now have the ability to recognise the families and homes where children are at risk, we can tell who is going to be a criminal when they reach their teens. What we have got to do now is to put in effective programmes to change that behaviour or prevent it from developing."

Mr. Edness said he is aware that he is taking a chance politically and his hard stance could be the end of his career. But he said, although there are people who disagree with him about the birch, "they agree that they want to take some kind of action."

He added: "There are also a lot of people who agree with the birch and this kind of punishment for some of the crimes that are being perpetrated in Bermuda."

But as far as any ambition toward the top seat in local politics Mr. Edness said: "I have always found that I work fairly effectively at the Ministerial level and I have served a number of Premiers in my political career. All politicians reserve the right that if they are called to serve in the number one spot then they will have to make a decision at that time. I don't have any great ambition to go out and seek that particular spot.

"I am pleased that the United Bermuda Party is tough on crime. Some of my colleagues do not agree with me with some of the specifics that I have mentioned but they all agree that we have to take a much tougher stance on crime. And that we have to look at our laws, methods, rehabilitation and prevention programmes."

Corpun file 0330b at

Mid-Ocean News, Hamilton, 13 September 1996

Birching violates human rights convention

By Rebecca Zuill, News Editor

BIRCHING is not permitted in Bermuda under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which the island is a signatory, lawyers said this week.

In recent days high-ranking politicians have called for the application of corporal punishment in the case of some crimes, and defended its availability in public schools.

But lawyers said this week that as a colony of Britain the island is bound by the articles of the ECHR. Labour, Home Affairs and Public Safety Minister Quinton Edness went on the record on Tuesday demanding that corporal punishment, which remains on the island's statute books, should be prescribed in the case of robbers who target taxi drivers -- whom he called "monsters" -- and handbag snatchers.

One week ago Education Minister Jerome Dill, who also holds the Human Affairs portfolio, also supported corporal punishment, saying it will remain an option for educators, rejecting recommendations made by the Task Force on Child Abuse headed by former Attorney General Saul Froomkin that caning should be struck from the new Education Act and the Code of Conduct for public schools.

Lawyers Clare Hatcher and Elizabeth Christopher, both known for their work on human rights issues, said this week that corporal punishment has been clearly banned as a judicial penalty by the European Court and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lawyer and human rights advocate Ms Christopher who championed Dr. John Stubbs' bill decriminalising homosexuality, said birching was "definitely" against the European Convention.

"If we are going to be a party to these conventions the least we can do is comply with them," said the lawyer.

"Being a signatory to this human rights convention is not just window dressing. The fact of the matter is we have to respect it," she said.

Ms Hatcher, known for her work for Amnesty International, also said employing birching as a mode of punishment would contravene the ECHR.

"In the case relating to corporal punishment, the Tyrer case, which defined 'degrading treatment' under the European Convention of human rights, we are not allowed to inflict corporal punishment.

"Another convention to consider is the European [sic -- it is actually a UN convention -- C.F. ] Convention on the Rights of the Child. Bermuda is a signatory of that, too."

In many European countries the trend against physical punishment has moved to the point where smacking within the home deemed illegal, and Great Britain may soon be forced to follow suit.

Just this week the European Court has agreed to hear the case of a British boy who was caned at home by his step father after attempting to stab a younger child.

Tuesday's London Times newspaper reported the boy's lawyers have argued that caning is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights in that it amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. The British Government has called the case "manifestly ill founded," but the European Court have said there is a case to answer.

Birching was clearly banned as a judicial punishment by the European Court 18 years ago. In the Tyrer case, a 15-year-old boy residing on the Isle of Man was sentenced to three strokes of the birch for assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Corporal punishment has not been permitted in England, Wales and Scotland since 1968 [actually 1948 -- C.F.], but it was permissible on males for certain offences under Manx law.

The European Court found, under the European Convention, for a punishment to be illegal it must amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. The European Court stated factors that made a punishment "degrading" were the institutionalised use of physical violence by one person against another and the assault upon that person's dignity and physical integrity that this involved.

The Court in this case emphasised that it was not relevant that the birch was thought to be an effective deterrent.

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