Grenada promises to change controversial electronics crime bill

ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada, Friday January 31, 2014, CMC – The Grenada government Friday said it would make adjustments to the Electronics Crime Bill after it was criticized by the island’s media organization and the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) for quietly allowing the legislation to become law despite government promises of reform.

“The government of Grenada, and especially Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell remain committed to making the adjustments to the Electronics Crime Bill that will eliminate any clauses that appear to infringe on the concept of a free media, or that seeks to criminalize libel,” said Hamlet Mark, Senior Adviser on Information to the Prime Minister.

“We had hoped that the amendment would have been before the parliament at the last sitting, but it was not included on the Order Paper because of administrative delays at the legal department.

“Given the latest developments, the Prime Minister has again instructed that the preparations are completed and that all concerned ensure that the matter will be on the agenda for the next sitting of parliament.”

The Media Workers Association of Grenada (MWAG) had said it was concerned that the government had not removed an offending clause from the bill  that could severely undermine free expression, and infringe on the rights of Grenadians and journalists in particular.

In a release on Thursday, MWAG stated that “it will not stand for anything short of the total deletion of Clause 6 of the Electronics Crime Bill 2013, now Electronics Crime Act, and a revision of other offending clauses.” 

According to MWAG, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell in a telephone discussion with the President of MWAG, Shere-Ann Noel, had indicated  he had instructed the Attorney General, Cajeton Hood, to remove the clause on July 2nd, 2013 and again on September 25th, 2013.

IPI, which together with the regional media group, the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM), has been campaigning to get regional governments to remove criminal libel from the law books, said that the Mitchell government had in September last year given an undertaking to deal with concerns about the Electronic Crimes Bill.

But it said, despite the assurances, no changes were made and instead, the on the same day that Prime Minister Mitchell promised to reform the bill, Governor-General Cécile La Grenade granted it royal assent. IPI quoted from Grenada’s official Government Gazette, to show that the Electronic Crimes Act was published on October 3, 2013.

“The published version, seen by IPI, contains no alterations to the specific sections that regional and international press freedom groups highlighted as problematic. These included Section 6, which would mandate up to one year in prison for sending by electronic means information that is “grossly offensive” or is known to be false but was reproduced in order to cause “annoyance”, “insult” or “ill will”,” IPI said in a statement.

But Mark in his statement said that the decision to make the amendments was taken after the initial bill was passed in the parliament and the consequent assent by the Governor General was “almost an automatic administrative development that is handled largely through the office of the parliament.

“There is no precedence under Grenadian statues where the Prime Minister’s office could have stopped the assent, once it was passed in parliament,” he said, adding “what the policy makers can do is make the amendment in the parliament, which we are completely committed to doing.

“We have transmitted that position to the Grenada Media Workers Association, and we have been in constant contact with the body throughout the period. We have at some times shared its frustration with the slow pace of the entire process.

“In fact we have another meeting with an executive committee of MWAG on Friday to ensure that the amendments we are all committed to, are indeed comprehensive.”

Mark reiterated that “neither the Office of the Prime Minister, nor my own personal position from where I sit, has a contradictory or adversarial position to what MWAG and such other interested parties are advocating.

“We are confident that the issue will be cleared at short order; and the commitment made will be kept,” he added. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)