PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago, April 18, 2018 (CMC) – President Paula-Mae Weekes has warned Trinidad and Tobago nationals, that they must be careful not to “damage the national psyche, by inadvertently inciting victimisation, bigotry and violence”, as the public debate continues, following last week’s ruling by the High Court that the country’s buggery laws are “unconstitutional”.
In a statement, President Weekes, a former high court judge, said she has been following the debate, both in the traditional and social media, surrounding Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act.
“I implore citizens, especially those in a position to influence others, to inform themselves, fully, on the law and the facts, before making public utterances,” she added.
In his ruling, last Thursday, Justice Devindra Rampersad said “that sections 13 and 16 of the (Sexual Offences Act) are unconstitutional, illegal, null, void, invalid and of no effect, to the extent that these laws criminalise any acts constituting consensual sexual conduct between adults”.
The judge said the current law goes against the basic rights of any citizen to enjoy the freedom of privacy and family life, and that it was unfortunate when society, in any way, values a person or gives a person their identity, based on their race, colour, gender, age or sexual orientation.
“That is not their identity. That is not their soul. That is not the sum total of their value to society or their value to themselves,” said Rampersad, adding that the experiences of apartheid in South Africa and the USA, during and after slavery, “have shown the depths that human dignity has been plunged, as a result of presupposed and predetermined prejudices, based on factors that do not accept or recognize humanity”.
The government has already indicated it will appeal the ruling.
In her statement, the Head of State reminded commentators of the request she made in her inauguration address that “we should disseminate our views, responsibly, and report on facts”.
She said Section 13 (1) states that a person who commits the offence of buggery is liable on conviction to imprisonment for 25 years.
“In layman’s terms, it is against the law, under Section 13, to have anal intercourse, whether man with man or man with woman, even where the parties are consenting adults acting in private. It is also unlawful, by virtue of Section 16, for there to be the exciting or satisfying of sexual desire by engaging in acts, short of sexual intercourse, but which involve the use of genital organs e.g., oral sex between consenting adult males, as well as between consenting adult females,” Weekes stated.
“It is these specific prohibitions that engaged the attention of the court. The arguments in the case did not touch and concern non-consensual sexual acts or sexual acts involving adults with children,” she added.
President Weekes noted that the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago has indicated that the decision was appealed, and the final verdict on the constitutionality of the law is yet to be determined.
“It is important to appreciate however, that it is not in dispute that the criminalisation of same-sex, consensual sexual relations infringes important constitutional rights. The legal issues to be determined, on appeal, are whether a law, which admittedly violates constitutional rights, is nevertheless saved from being struck down by a constitutional provision, which protects old colonial laws, and whether the legislature, by a special three-fifths majority, can override what they know to be a constitutional violation,” the President noted.