Equality Rights group GGR - Citizenship in Democracy EQUALITY RIGHTS GGR

News and Information from Gibraltar on Equality, Human, Gay and Social Rights

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Gibraltar Minister for Justice tightening noose on human rights

Government’s commitment to citizens’ rights is “of the zero-fat variety”, says the group

Equality Rights Group GGR has reacted strongly to the Government’s recently-published Consultation Paper on Legal Aid and Legal Assistance. “This is more evidence that Mr Caruana and his government’s commitment to and interest in human rights is of the zero-fat variety,” Felix Alvarez (above), the group’s Chairman, stated.

“Indeed, the new low-calorie Legal Aid & Assistance Scheme Mr Feetham proposes is deliberately designed to tighten the noose around Gibraltarians’ human rights, whilst at the same time and for political cosmetic purposes, painting a façade of what Mr Caruana calls “civic rights”. Unfortunately shop-fronts like the Citizens’ Advice Bureau are no substitute for the introduction of legal rights for citizens.

“Government has just approved the purchase of a brand-new Jaguar for Mr Caruana, to replace his previous official car. Practically in the same breath, Mr Feetham now has the gall to throttle what little oxygen is available to ordinary people under the present Legal Aid & Assistance Scheme, whilst cynically using ‘cost-cutting’ as his main argument. GGR recommends to Mr Feetham and his Ministerial colleagues to reduce their high salaries and donate them to the Gibraltar economy instead as a sign of their cost-cutting sincerity.

“Furthermore, given the GSD’s narrow definition of ‘family’, Mr Feetham’s proposal to focus the civil legal assistance scheme on family law is a thinly-disguised but intentional measure to discriminate against the gay community. The aim is to make human rights litigation for sexual minorities even more difficult than it already is. In a word, the Minister for Justice himself is, both ironically and cynically, aiming to exclude the gay community from access to justice.

“Any human rights litigation which, up to now, qualifies for legal assistance will, under Feetham’s scheme have to jump various qualifying hurdles and filters. Whilst Feetham attempts to portray his proposals as a move forward, the reality is that it represents a studied curtailment of access to justice not just for gays and lesbians but for Gibraltarians as a whole. Under the GSD, access to justice as a system, is in fact, going backwards and not forwards.

“Government, at this stage, still has an opportunity to correct the defects in its proposals for this scheme. However, if the new legal aid and assistance scheme is eventually put in place by this government without the necessary corrections, Mr Caruana can only expect confrontation from across the community. In the meantime, and in parallel to Government’s publication of its Paper, GGR is already consulting across the Gibraltar community and putting in place the necessary legal and political contacts with relevant authorities as a first step towards any challenge which it may be necessary to mount against Government for breach of fundamental rights.”