Island government refuses to reveal law

It is a basic principle of society that everyone has the right to know the law.

Not on St Helena.

A request to be told which Contempt of Court law applies on the island has twice been met with refusal on the basis that giving an answer would constitute “legal advice”.

It matters, because there is a question over a possible breach of human rights on the island.

The refusal has come once through the government press office, and once through the government’s “access to information” procedure, a tentative move towards freedom-of-information legislation.

Is the island covered by the Contempt of Court Act 1981 that exists in English law? Or some modified version of that Act? There is no local ordinance listed on the St Helena Government list of laws.

The lack of a local law strongly suggests – in accordance with the basis of law on the island – that the English legislation applies. However, for the purposes of the human rights investigation, relying on this assumption is not adequate.

The government has refused the FoI-lite request on the basis that the information is already in the public domain and can be obtained from a solicitor.

If a solicitor has to be paid for the information, then it is questionable whether it is in the public domain.

And the island’s Code of Practice for access to information says:

In cases where the information is already in the public domain, SHG will indicate where it can be found.

The government has now been asked to give that indication.

The principle of the right to know the law has existed since Roman times and is accepted by many countries.

As the American organisation Public.Resource.Org puts it:

The right to know and speak the law is the underpinning of government in ancient and modern times.

And on the same site (edited version):

“Only if the law is truly free and available can we expect people and enterprises to obey the law, to know their rights under the law, and to evaluate and participate in the work of improving the law. Only if the law is accessible to all, can we truly say that a society is governed by the Rule of Law.

 

“The law must be easily available to all people, access to the legal system and the texts that make up the law should not be bought, or sold, or rationed. People must have the right—an unfettered right—to read the law.

“When Justice Stephen Breyer said, “if a law isn’t public, it isn’t a law,” he was expressing the long-standing doctrine of the Rule of Law, one that has become ever more important in our information age.

“Nobody can deny you the right to read and know the law.

“The law is yours to read, yours to know, and yours to speak. This law is your law.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is now an archive – for now

St Helena Online has provided independent, professional news and features coverage of one of the world’s most isolated islands for more than four years, and provided strong support for independent media on St Helena.

For now, the site is quietly sleeping while I work in the background on a time-consuming, complex issue involving human rights and media freedom. I hope to be back in action before the end of the UK summer – we’ll see.

This is a back-up copy of the site without most of the navigation and promotional content. The last story I published was about the impending official opening of St Helena’s first airport. The opening never happened: after Britain spent 285 million building the airport, it proved too dangerous for large passenger aircraft to land on it because of unpredictable wind turbulence near the runway – an incredible outcome and a disaster for the island.

It is not possible for me to cover that story adequately at present, but I can direct readers to the excellent work being done by the St Helena Independent – available on line from Friday evenings. Editor Vince Thompson is more concerned with finding out what is being done to put things right than with “blame journalism”. There aren’t many answers to the former but he’s unearthing some intriguing information about what’s gone wrong.

Cheers for now

Simon Pipe, owner of St Helena Online

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Prince to open St Helena Airport

Prins Edward, earl av Wessex - version 4

Prince Edward, Duke of Wessex (picture: Wikimedia commons)

Prince Edward, the Queen’s third son, is to perform the official opening ceremony for St Helena Airport – as long as safety inspectors have given clearance for it to become operational.

From St Helena Government:

The historic opening of St Helena Airport is planned for the morning of Saturday 21 May 2016 – St Helena’s National Day.  It will be marked by a public ceremony at the Airport site, with royal guest HRH The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, in attendance.

All members of the public will be invited to attend this special event, ahead of the traditional St Helena’s Day entertainments in Jamestown.

As is usual, New Horizons will be organising the traditional programme of events for St Helena’s Day.  But this year, this will be preceded by the official opening of St Helena Airport at the aerodrome organised by SHG, Enterprise St Helena, New Horizons and Basil Read – subject, of course, to prior certification of the airport.

Preparations for the opening ceremony are ongoing and further details will follow in due course.

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Voyage to investigate illegal fishing off Ascension: reporting ban on St Helena media is lifted

extractor 640

A criminal investigation has been carried out into illegal fishing around Ascension Island.

But the media on St Helena were banned from reporting on an investigatory expedition aboard the MFV Extractor until it was over (archive picture by Bruce Salt).

No details of the operation have emerged from official sources at the time of writing.

An injunction was served on Mike Olsson, editor of the St Helena Independent, and Saint FM Community Radio, to prevent them reporting on the voyage for fear of alerting the operators of illegal fishing vessels.

Other media on the island were also bound by the injunction.

Chief magistrate John MacRitchie said in his court judgement that the media would be “unlikely to potentially interfere with the course of justice, if the situation is explained to them”.

He said acting attorney general Angelo Berbotto had failed to explain why the media should avoid reporting the voyage of the MFV Extractor.

He also rebuked Mike Olsson for giving a forthright response to a threatening email from Mr Berbotto. This was blamed for a breakdown in communications that prompted Mr Berbotto to take the extraordinary and draconian step of seeking an injunction at the 11th hour, disrupting publication of the 5 February 2016 edition of the St Helena Independent.

In his judgement in the case, Mr MacRitchie said the injunction would mean inhibiting the freedom of the press – “an extremely important right”.

But he said this was outweighed by the need to prevent “interference with the detection of serious crimes, which are specifically said to be taking place around Ascension  island.”

The affair has raised a number of human rights issues that are expected to be examined in the coming days.

There is also likely to be scrutiny of the actions of Mr Berbotto and the legal service on St Helena.

  • COMMENT: Responsible efforts by St Helena Online to find out the scope of reporting restrictions were unsuccessful. This resulted in the site being unable to report on matters of clear public interest that could, in fact, have been made public, without risk of perverting the course of justice. This became clear when a copy of the court judgement was received on Friday, 4 March 2016, only a day before the injunction would expire. I regard this obstruction as an unwarranted restraint on my human right to freedom of expression and will be considering my response. Simon Pipe, owner, St Helena Online

 

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House that: Andy auctions stamp painting for island charity

first day cover by andy crowe 1280Andy Crowe’s vivid paintings of St Helena’s capital city provided a colourful theme for a set of postage stamps. And now one of them is to be sold at auction to raise some capital for an island charity.

Readers are invited to place sealed bids in time for the auction on 17 March 2016.

Andy went to St Helena to improve social housing on the island, but made his mark in other ways as well: not least as a costumed stand-in for Napoleon at community events.

In his spare time he indulged his talent as an artist. The colours and shapes of buildings in Jamestown were a favourite theme.

Back home in the UK at the end of his contract, he has decided to take time out of housing work to chance his arm – as he puts it – as a working artist. He’s already built up a full order book.

He was so delighted to have his paintings chosen for the island stamps that he has decided to sell off his favourite, showing Main Street, for an island cause.

He says: “The proceeds will go to a St Helena charity, yet to be decided (mainly because I have no idea what the painting will sell for).

“I have also offered to auction a painting, again for a St Helena charity, when the RMS St Helena is moored in London.”

He bought up 100 copies of the first day cover showing his stamps and gave half of them to family and friends. He is selling signed copies of the rest at £15 a time – having allowed the Post Office to reproduce the originals for no fee.

The original of his Main Street scene will be auctioned as part of a sale at the Grosvenor Auction House in The Strand, London. Details can be found on Andy’s website (see the link below).

As St Helena’s first housing officer, Andy had to address severe problems with the state of government housing, as well as coming up with designs for new rented homes. Funding for them is still awaited. The job was challenging, but life on the island was rewarding.

On his website, Andy tells how he developed his technique of using a palette knife and brushes to produce of paintings of Frigiliana in Andalucia, where he had his first solo exhibition in 2009.

On St Helena, he found it “a challenge to apply the same knife and brush angles” to the rugged volcanic cliffs and vivid colours of Jamestown.

He arrived on the island in 2012 and by December 2014 his collection was large enough to warrant an exhibition in the Museum of St Helena.

“The exhibition was a great success, resulting in 12 commissions and the honour of having four of my paintings reproduced as postage stamps,” he says.

Contact Andy to find out more via his website, www.frigiliarte.com (click on More in the top menu).
Place a bid for the painting at www.grosvenorauctions.com

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Last hurrah for St Helena boatmen as sea freight deal is signed

A contract to operate a cargo ship to replace the RMS St Helena has been signed – and it will include a small number of passenger berths for the Ascension run.

The deal with AW Ship Management Ltd has been completed four months before the planned retirement date for the RMS St Helena. The company has yet to buy a ship to operate the service.

But it appears the legendary skills of the St Helena boatmen in unloading cargo at sea will no longer be needed: the new vessel will be able to berth at the wharf that is nearing completion in Rupert’s Bay.

It will sail from Cape Town to St Helena and back every five weeks, moving to a four-weekly cycle after a year. It will also operate a voyage to Ascension every two months.

It is expected to depart Cape Town for the first time voyage to St Helena on 27 July 2016, arriving on 2 August.

Unlike the RMS St Helena, the new service will not be subsidised, meaning some cargo prices may rise.

A St Helena Government statement says:

“The intention is for the new cargo service to continue on as seamlessly as possible from the St Helena Line service.

“AW Ship Management will now move ahead with purchasing its own vessel dedicated to the St Helena and Ascension service. ”

“The ship selected will be a geared container ship capable of carrying 250 TEU or equivalent. The vessel will be around 100m long, with a breadth of approximately 18m and a summer draft of 4.5m. Thus, AWSM will be able to discharge cargo alongside at Rupert’s Bay even in a fully loaded condition.

“Cargo bookings for the new service are now being accepted. AWSM’s agents and contact details remain the same as the current service for ease of transition.

“AWSM will be making a small number of passenger cabins available on the new vessel so that passenger sea services can be maintained for those wishing to travel by sea to and from Ascension.

“The dedicated ship for this service will be owned by AWSM and operated with the same skill and dedication that has been applied to the RMS St Helena since 2001. The use of a dedicated ship will ensure that a reliable schedule can be maintained.

“AWSM has been involved in the shipping of cargo to and from St Helena for sixteen years and is fully aware of the importance of a regular, reliable and direct freight service to the island.”

Freight rates are expected to be “broadly the same as the rates for the RMS”. They have been submitted to the island government for approval.

“It is inevitable that rates for certain types of cargo will have to rise given that the RMS is heavily subsidised, but AWSM has worked hard to ensure that such increases are kept to an absolute minimum.”

Pricing will take account of fuel prices, exchange rates and anticipated volumes.

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Connect fined £10,500 for threat to wirebirds

A “reckless failure” to protect two wirebirds has landed Connect St Helena with a fine of £10,500.

St Helena Magistrates’ Court heard that it let a contractor start work on its solar farm before full planning consent had been given – with measures to protect the endangered birds.

Conservationists in the UK praised the island’s planning and legal systems for acting swiftly to protect “one of the world’s rarest shorebirds”.

A court report said Connect St Helena halted the work as soon as it was alerted by officials. It pleaded guilty to allowing the unnamed independent local contractor to start work on the site before full development permission had been granted.

The report said: “The court found that Connect had been reckless in their failure to put in place and to enforce a system for protecting at least two wirebirds which had been seen at the development site.

“The court further concluded that there had been a risk of significant harm, due to the potentially long lasting effect on such wirebirds, being one of the rarest and therefore most endangered species of birds in the world.”

It said the company had otherwise complied effectively with planning regulations.

“The incident was however considered to be a very serious offence and the court accordingly fined Connect the sum of £10,500 with costs of £15.”

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which has funded wirebird conservation on St Helena, said: “The RSPB applauds the work of the planning and legal authorities in this matter.

“The wirebird is one of the world’s rarest shorebirds, with only about 430 adults remaining.

“Planning rules need to be followed if St Helena is to protect its remarkable environment and realise the benefits of eco-tourism.”

The £10,000 fine is small when seen against the million pounds Connect was given approval to invest in its first solar farm in 2014.

Panels on the farm at Half Tree Hollow capture the sun’s rays to generate electricity.

Along with wind turbines on Deadwood Plain, they help the island generate more than 30% of its electricity from renewable sources – more than double the rate in the UK.

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