The head of this country’s judiciary has suggested that some existing laws may be at variance with the Constitution in relation to the treatment of persons living with HIV/AIDS.
Newly knighted Chief Justice, Sir Marston Gibson, told the opening of a two-day HIV Research Symposium at the Savannah Hotel this morning, that the Constitution of Barbados clearly articulates “what we as a nation recognise and uphold as the basic human rights of every Barbadian citizen, which must be protected in pursuit of human dignity and equality”.
“So a person living with HIV deserves no less protection of these rights than anyone else. And the same applies to other groups which are marginalised in society,” he added.
Sir Marston said that while there had been a 40 per cent decline in AIDS-related deaths in the Caribbean since 2001, many of those who need treatment, do not access it, or do not even know their status, until it is too late.
“The real explanation for this reluctance to access treatment is the persistent HIV-related stigma and discrimination and the lifestyles associated with its transmission. Even now, HIV and AIDS are still perceived as a disease limited to sex workers and men who have sex with men,” he added.
The top judicial officer said if Barbados held out that their fundamental rights were equal and inalienable, then the State could not use desire, or the preference of the majority of society, no matter how strong and enduring that desire, or preference may be, as the basis for denying to one group of citizens, the equal protection of their fundamental right and freedoms.
“This handle of human rights then offers us, as the judiciary, a point with which to leverage our approach to HIV and the law, particularly when it comes to reduction of stigma and discrimination. And I have focused on this area which has been, on global evidence and even from preliminary surveys conducted locally, among the most formidable remain barriers,” submitted the chief justice.
“There are several questions which we need to ask: Are we making enough effort in law and our legal decisions to adequately protect our children or their fundamental rights?
“Are cases reaching the court in time to ensure that any of these persons are not irretrievably conmpromised?”
He also asked what persons would do if they were faced with the issue of the right to privacy when someone’s HIV status was broadcast to the whole world without the least justification.
“[And] how do we in courts respond to the claimant-worker whose job is terminated simply because the boss has been informed that she is HIV positive?” he asked.
“All of the constitutions of the Commonwealth Caribbean indicate that they are the supreme law of the land and it has been regularly pointed out that the principal function of our courts is to enforce our … democratic Constitutions and the spirt of our nationhood,” the head of the judiciary declared.
The chief justice insisted that it was therefore incumbent on judges to interpret the Constitution in a manner that would make the best instruments of justice that could possibly be and so facilitate the exercise of legitimate governmental powers. (EJ)††