A lawyer and politician is highlighting the right of accused persons to the presumption of innocence and defence counsel, even if they are charged with rape.
“I reserve the right to fight for all Vincentians, even persons convicted of rape,” Kay Bacchus-Baptiste the NDP’s candidate for West St. George told the party’s 41st convention in Arnos Vale on Sunday.
“I abhor all rapists. I abhor people who break the criminal law. But this country’s law says you are innocent until proven guilty,” said Bacchus-Baptiste, who has been a lawyer for 32 years.
Bacchus-Baptiste, who entered electoral politics two years ago, noted that it was she and now deceased counsel, Nicole Sylvester, who, a decade ago, brought private criminal complaints against Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.
The charges were filed on behalf of a female police officer who accused the prime minister of sexually assaulting her while she was a member of his security detail at his official residence.
Then Director of Public Prosecution Colin Williams took over and discontinued the case for lack of evidence and the higher courts upheld his decision.
“Indeed, it was me, along with Nicole Sylvester who brought private criminal actions of rape and indecent assault against Ralph Gonsalves. You all know the history about that. You know they were nolle prosequi, but I am still a lawyer and until I close my doors of my ‘comfortable profession’, I reserve the right to fight for all people, because all people have a right to be defended,” Bacchus-Baptiste said.
“And until when I go there, I won’t be able to do it anymore. When I am elected to Parliament, I will fight to win your wars. My people of West St. George, give me your brief and your battles will be won,” she said.
Bacchus-Baptiste’s comments come amidst strong activism on social and other media platforms against rape, at a time when a state employed psychologist has said that there is a rape culture in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
In many instances, once someone is charge with a sex crime, especially one involving a minor, many social media users respond as if the accused person has already pleaded or been proven guilty.
They further offer up a variety of suggestions about how the accused persons should be punished, including in ways not provided for by the law.
The opposition lawmaker is one of several lawyers, across the political divide, among parliamentary representatives or candidates or potential candidates in the next general elections, constitutionally due by March 2021.
Among current Members of Parliament, her legacy as a practitioner of criminal law is arguably surpassed only by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who is known for a number of high profile cases.
These include Gonsalves’ defence
In 1997, when he was an opposition lawmaker, Gonsalves was a member of the legal team that successfully defended a U.S. couple charged with the murder of a Vincentian man.
Bacchus-Baptiste’s comments came as she speculated about who might be the ruling Unity Labour Party’s candidate in West St. George, which is represented by Cecil “Ces” McKie, who is into his second five-year term.
“You know, unlike the retired teacher with the emphasis on ‘tired’ I am come to fight for you! I am come to give you hope! To heal your fears! I am not looking for ‘food to eat’ the retired teacher said ‘I must eat ah food’. That is his motivation for running,” Bacchus-Baptiste told Sunday’s rally.
“That’s the major difference between us. I am giving up the ‘the comfort of the legal profession’,” she said, adding that Gonsalves recently said in in Parliament, “… there are lawyers who want to get into politics but don’t want to leave the comfort of their profession”.
Bacchus-Baptiste told party supporters:
“Well, I am leaving the comfort of my legal profession to fight for you. My entire career I have fought for the underdog. When it comes to fighting for the poor and dispossessed, you can’t find a better fighter.”