Public Order Act – Professional Understanding


The “…Public Order Act” speaks specifically to (i) …Public meetings; (ii) …Non-citizens addressing meetings; ….Public marches; …Use of public address systems.” Fundamental to the conduct of these activities, are two roles of the Commissioner of Police, (Administrative and (ii) …Enforcement of law.” The former speaks to “…Procedures for the issuance of permits to hold public meetings and marches; … Applications to be made in writing; …requirements for non-citizens speaking at such meetings; …use of Public address systems” [Sections 3-6: 10: 11: 28], while the latter speaks to “…Enforcement for non-compliance with the legal requirements.” Issuance is contingent upon two considerations, (i) …Preservation of public order, and (ii) …the interest of public safety” [Section 5].


It will have been seen that with the ‘…Vagaries of Life,” even with the “…advanced planning strategies; …adequacy of resources and use of technologies,” it has never been easier for the Security Forces in protecting one individual, in an uncontrolled environment.” In many societies, there are “…internal threats, equally as much as there are external ones Thus, there may be no denying that the dynamic nature of modern societies has seen “…mounting security threats to all nations.” These have gone beyond perceptions. Terror is everywhere. Security challenges in some nations were far greater, resulting in constant demands, not only for “…protection of high profile people, but also general populations.”


This commentary looks at (i) “…Administrative aspects of the Public Order Act; (ii)…Non-application to Peaceful Picket; (iii)…Provisions contained in the Constitution Order; (iv) …Pressure Groups; and (v) …Other pertinent developments.” In this jurisdiction, picketing does not call for (i) …Platform gatherings; (ii) …addresses by speakers, nor, (iii) …the use of public address systems.” Consequently, it places “…no legal obligations to be compliant; …restriction or prohibition on organizers or picketers,” whether carried on “…outside private businesses or workplaces or official premises.”


Ever since the enactment of the “…Public Order Act,” over four decades ago [November 1973], it has been the subject of “…criticisms; …controversies; …judicial visitations; …legislative re-visitations and ministerial appeals.” Professionally interpreted, the “…Distance of 100 yards specified in the Public Order Act,” speaks to (i) “…Public meetings; (ii) …Marches and (iii) …Use of public address systems” in close proximity of “…official premises.” [POA: Section 22]. As it affects picketing, ‘Public Order Act,’ clearly states, “…Nothing in this Part shall operate or be construed as operating to penalize or prevent any lawful picketing carried on outside any official premises” [Section 22]. The law might be “…conscientiously recognized and obeyed by the citizenry,” but only to the extent that law enforcement personnel will have been seen as “…executing their duties lawfully; …rationally and with justification.”


Likened to most nations “…founded upon the principles of democracy,” framers of Constitutions have anticipated that law abiding citizens may be given legitimate reasons in “…mounting protests against policy-decisions made by those elected and mandated to administer State affairs.” On this premise, the framers were in anticipation that “…State Agencies,” to all intents and purposes, may take actions, capable of being construed as “…Penalizing or Preventive” and thus, caused grievances to law-abiding citizens.” Despite new public administration and promises of “…new dispensation,” there has been mounting challenges to law enforcement and serious difficulties to the citizenry. Consequently, they have “…enshrined safeguards in the Constitution Orders,” not only for “…protection and guarantee,” but also that citizens may have “…unfettered enjoyment of the fundamental rights; …freedoms and liberties of the individual.”


Anticipating possible infringements, the framers have “…inserted enshrinement of certain fundamental rights; …freedoms and liberties of individual” [No.1106 of 1981]. In the wider society, a myriad of issues had forced many people to the picket line- “…some over human rights and justice; …political and cultural issues; …squalid social conditions; …social injustice; …taxes; …incentives on capital investments; …economic policies; …non-payment of salaries and wages and other benefits.” The framers perceptively and rightly anticipated that disgruntled citizens will mount protestations through “…public meetings; …public marches or picketing.” When Dame Gwendolyn Tonge led a group of senior citizens to the Ministry of Labour, they were not “…barred and/or distanced 100 yards away.” However, when they were reportedly described as “…a bunch of rag-tags,” such may have been viewed as “…offensive and objectionable.”


In most democratic societies, “…Picketing has been a lawful activity, provided it is (i) …Peaceful and orderly; (ii) …Not intimidatory; (iii) …Causes no obstruction to people entitled to lawful access to the targeted premises; (a) …Pedestrian or Vehicular traffic.” Thus, “…Freedom to Picket,” does not include a right to inconvenience other people. However, in all these, while there are “…rights; …freedoms and liberties,” there are also the imposition of “…duties and responsibilities” on those who wish to enjoy them.” While democracy was to be seen as that on which freedom thrives, universally, “…Peaceful Picketing” has been seen and accepted as a “…civilized form of protestation.” Though the “…Public Order Act,” stipulates no legal requirements for the conduct of picket, it is incumbent on organizers to inform Law enforcement of the conduct of such activity. This shall enable law enforcement commanders in “…deploying a sufficient number of personnel for the (i) …Protection of picketers; (ii) …Crowd control and (iii) …Generally, for public safety and the preservation of public order” [POA: Section 5].


While constitutionally guaranteed freedoms might be so enjoyed, it also provides for “…situational curtailment,” and as circumstances dictate.” Among the “…State’s Responsibilities are (i) …Public safety and preservation of public order.” Hence, where these might reasonably be apprehended or occasioned or (ii) …where National Security comes under threat,” a proactive Law enforcement agency shall respond to prevent their occurrences. The executive members appeared to have been mindful of actions and/or conduct that may have been seen as “… running counter to the “…Rule of Law.” This may have been evident, when one of its executive members “…Algernon ‘Serpent’ Watt,” reportedly urged protesters to “…exercise restraint and to be compliant with orders given by law enforcement personnel” [Observer Media: November 17, 2015].


Traditionally, “…Picketing has mostly been associated with Labor issues; …Trade or industrial matters.” Such action was usually sanctioned by Trade Unions in “…having grievances and/or disputes expeditiously addressed.” These may relate to “…policies; …terms and conditions of work; … demands for increased salaries, wages and allowances; or dissatisfaction over hiring practices, particularly at the managerial level; or in support of workers who may have been seen as being “…victimized; …suspended; …unfairly dismissed or severed.” Recent developments within the “…State-owned media Antigua and Barbuda Broadcasting Service (ABS),” speak to one or more of these issues. They saw “…unhappy or disgruntled employees” conducted picketing outside their work-place.” Those so picketed were not subjected to the “…100 yards radius, applicable to “…public meetings and marches” as aimed in the Public Order Act [Chapter 357].


While a “…Common Law Approach” might be taken in ensuring that “…Breaches of the peace were not threatened; …occasioned or apprehended by the citizens, only an efficient intelligence-gathering machinery will allow for, (i) “…Deeper understanding of the social and political environment; (ii) …Contingency planning; and (iii) …Effective implementation and operational command.” These are geared toward “…effective use of resources; …proper deployment of personnel and operational flexibility.”These are advantageous to the “…elimination of suspicion; …hostility; …antagonism; …enhancing public confidence and trust in the integrity of the service being delivered to the citizenry and garnering public support.” These, undoubtedly, will help law enforcement to “…better understand the dynamics of a constant changing society.


While the environment in which “…people in leadership and/or managerial positions” have to be carefully understood, frequently either misunderstanding of law had often impaired otherwise good judgment. Frequently, it was actions that the citizenry had perceived as “…unreasonable; …irrational and unjustified” in democratic societies, that had often “…sparked firestorms of criticisms, thus, had led to protestations and picketing. As it affects picketing, the ‘Public Order Act’ makes no provisions for “…administrative procedures; …compliance or enforcement.” In fact, it excludes such activity from requirements applicable to “…public meetings and marches” [POA: Section 22]. Taking umbrage with law enforcement actions, a “…Picketing Movement” had contended that “…Misinterpretation and Misapplication of the law,” had defeated the purposes of their picketing exercise [November 17, 2015].


From professional knowledge, many police commanders, internationally; …regionally and nationally,” had fallen victims, either to, “…Docility or Stupidity.” As contained in the Constitution, it allows for “…freedom of assembly and association” [CO: No. 1106 of 1981: Section 13]. Accepting (i) that in a democracy, peaceful picketing is lawful; (ii) “…accepting the supreme nature of the Constitution,” then it shall be accepted that actions taken that may adversely affect the protection and guarantee contained in its provisions, such actions were very likely to be seen as ultra vires those “…rights; …freedoms and liberties, it seeks to protect and guarantee.”


Those who will have “…administrated public affairs,” past and present, will have conducted these exercises. These activities will have been prompted by “…governmental policies that may be starved for “…rationality; …transparency and accountability, and even legitimacy.” There may also be issues impacting, inter alia, “…enjoyment of the fundamental rights; …freedoms and liberties of the individual.” The Constitution unambiguously states, “…Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of peaceful assembly and association, that is to say …his right peacefully to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular, to form or belong to trade unions or other associations for the promotion and protection of his interests” [CO: Section 13]. **


As has been the experiences of many law enforcement agencies, in a celebratory week in which “…partnerships were built; …stronger links forged and confidence boosted,” by actions viewed with suspicion, in one fell-swoop, all have dramatically collapsed.” Law enforcement personnel, likened to “…Ham in a Sandwich,” were invariably awkwardly and inescapably sandwiched between the “…populace and political directorate.” Although not in a literal sense, frequently, law enforcement personnel were voraciously devoured by both, the system and the citizenry. Docile police commanders had often been prepare into consumable “…Appetizing Political Snacks.”As it affects Commanders of law enforcement, “…exuberance; …impulsivity or docility” had often “…influenced decisions that borders lunacy.”


As “…police barriers distanced picketers 100 yards away from the targeted “… official premises-Parliament,” this had provoked angst in the placard-bearing picketers.” Though pandemonium had not broken out among “…irate picketers and heavily-armed police Tactical Unit,” reports suggested that “…misinterpretations of Section 22 the Act,” had been the attributed factor. Baring “…professional ignorance or misinterpretations of the provisions of the Act, it imposes no legal duty to require (i) …Issuance of a Permit; and (ii) …Applications to picket.” In the case of “…Public Meetings: …marches; …Permits for Non-citizen; …Use of public address system and/or …stipulated conditions,” while the Commissioner of Police may, on reasonably grounds that “…Public safety and/or public order” might be compromised, he may refuse to grant permission to hold these activities. This, however, may not be considered for reasons of “…power-wielding; …impulsivity; …environmental pressures or even unsubstantiated presumptions.” These have always been adverse to public support, cooperation and relations that beg for harmony.”


The “…Mischief aimed by Parliament” has been, that at the specified distance, these events may not have any “…adverse or disturbing; …annoying or disruptive effect,” on the conduct of government business and/or services delivered to the general public. The framers of the Constitution Order have provided a corresponding clause that states “…Except so far as that provision or, as the case may be, the thing done under the authority, thereof, is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.” Interestingly, they were acutely mindful that “…public officers might initiate actions that beg for “…reasonability; …lacked support of law or irrational and unjustified.” The framers anticipated that some public officials and/or agencies might be disposed in “…acting impulsively; …irrationally and over- officious.” Consequently, certain safeguards were inserted, to guide the citizenry; … policy-makers and law enforcers, as well as to enable judicial avenues for redress.


Only the naïve and/or the simpletons may entertain thoughts that citizens may not harbor feelings of “…suspicion; …distrust and angst” over the way law enforcement has executed their duties under certain laws. Except those nations that have been labeled “…Renegade States,” the nation of Antigua and Barbuda was far from such labeling. Law enforcement actions, however, had often given citizens reasons to perceive that they were heading in such direction. In enforcing the law, not only has a responsibility been placed upon all enforcers, but also through them, is the “…existence of a constitutional duty on the State to obey the law.” For ease of reference, the Constitution states “…The State is subject to the law.” Simply put, enforcement of any law shall be such, that even the “…not-so-law abiding citizen” may not only recognize its “…symbolism as the public conscience,” but also in feeling obliged to show obedience [Founding Principle (d)]. This, however, has always been dependent upon the “…approach; …spirit and environment in which any law was to be enforced.”


It may have been for these very reasons, the Constitution states, “…Nothing contained in, or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with, or in contravention of this Section, to the extent that the law in question makes provision for that which is reasonably required (i) …In the interest of defence; …public order; …public morality or public health; (ii) …for the purpose of protecting the rights or freedoms of other persons;   (iii) …That which imposes restrictions upon public officers that are reasonably required for the proper performance of their functions” [Section 13 (2) (a) (1)]. Guided by the “…Founding Constitutional Principle” that states “…The people of Antigua and Barbuda recognizes that the law symbolizes the public conscience; …That every citizen owes to it an undivided allegiance; …That it shall not be limited by any private views of justice or expediency” [CO: Principle (d)].


Every once in a while a “…Pressure Group” sprung up. Invariably, people had joined it for various reasons. Some, for “…show of patriotism and support or concerns over issues affecting the social and economic well-being of the nation and people.” Others had jumped aboard for “…obscure reasons and/or opportunities.” Bona fide members of the groups often see some as “…Bandwagonaires or Opportunists.” The emerged groups appeared to have had “…shared commonalities.” To all intents and purposes, each had assumed the role of “…National Watchdogs.” For a while, they are active and focused. Over time, there were internal membership squabbles and leadership struggles. Then slowly, they had drifted into dormancy; …became defunct and disappeared into oblivion.” Thus, likened to the petals of flowers, “…at sunrise, they bloom; …at midday they faded and gradually withered into the afternoon.” Then at sunset, they suddenly vanished.”


In the active years of these groups, with shared vision, purpose, in accord and in a united front, “…members protested; …marched; …chanted and sang.” Each administration appeared to have been faced with its own challenges. Many had conducted these activities as a “…mark of disapproval over social and economic conditions; …conduct of governance; …lack of transparency; …accountability and the integrity of those in public life.” They had also picketed against “…inequality and injustice; …deprivation of freedoms, or simply seeking answers from Law enforcement over “…behavioral allegations, deemed brutal,” and/or over “…detention and arrests of people who had held high-profile position.”


Several decades ago, an underground group called the “…Antigua Freedom Fighters (AFF)” had emerged within the nation. Its aim was to shorten the tenure of the “…Sir George Hubert Walter administration.” Its members had waged more of a “…Terrifying Psychological Warfare” against the one-term “…Sir George H. Walter administration” [1971-1976]. In the wee hours of the morning, pamphlets of unknown origin, bearing the name “…Antigua Freedom Fighters” were clandestinely circulated within the city center and peripheral communities. Some were “…affixed to the wiper blades of motor vehicles and/or deposited at entrances to government buildings; …offices; …street corners; …private dwellings and other places that provided ease of access and deposit.


Research showed that the “…Walter government was the target of a terrorist campaign by a clandestine group calling itself the Antigua Freedom Fighters; …This group reportedly “…spread fear throughout the population, with bomb threats that had “…caused schools; …government buildings and businesses to be evacuated” [Douglas W. Payne :Failings of Government in Antigua: June 1, 1999]. Sir George had countered with legislative enactments. Though it had forced the group underground, the measures were considered “…Restrictive and Harsh.” Notwithstanding these horrifying moments, the “…one-term governance,” was seen more of “…his administration’s own making,” than were the activities of the group.


The first was the “…Newspaper Surety Act [Chapter 292: Nos. 9 of 1972 & 10 of 1975] and the Public Order Act” [No. 9 of 1973]. These enactments were deemed to have been “…restrictive and financially burdensome.” The former not only called for “…substantial fees and sureties,” but had also clothed then Attorney General Sir Gerald Anderson Watt KCN, QC “…with extraordinary powers,” until repealed [No. 14 of 1976].” The exorbitant “…Fee and Surety requirements” had reportedly forced the “…Outlet and Worker’s Voice newspapers” into becoming “…Non-profit making voluntary organizations” [Chapter 292: Section 12]. They were effectively “…put out of commercial business.”


They had relied only upon “…public contributions” as they had made their publications free to the public. Law enforcement personnel had “…persevered and relentlessly pursued investigations in an effort to “…identify and apprehend those who were operating under anonymity.” Swooping down on the premises of “…Freedom Fighter Clarence Pilgrim, they had seized equipment and publications,” that led to his arrest. Though charged with “…Distributing Seditious Publications,” criminal proceedings appeared not to have visited upon him. The destabilizing effects of these activities had paved the way for two enactments of notoriety. One was “…financially burdensome,” while the latter spoke to “…deprivation of freedom of expression.”


In later years, the “…Pressure Groups,” that had emerged, had made public their “…identities and intentions. Not the least among the apostles, was the “…resilient and determined picketer James ‘Jim’ Galloway.” Single-handedly, he picketed government offices to bring attention to, inter alia, “…social ills or over the way government was seen to him as being run.” Then came the “…Serial Marchers.” Members of this group had “…religiously marched every Thursday afternoon. The group had accused the “…Lester Bird administration of, inter alia “…financial misconduct and incompetent governance.” Thus, it had demanded “…accountability; …transparency and integrity in public life.” Though their numbers appeared negligible, they had persevered, showed resilience and resolve, thereby helped in influencing a change of government” [March 23, 2004].”


This was followed by a group called the “…Lockup Movement Party (LUMP).” This group appeared to have failed in its objectives. For the membership, such change “…saw only the rising of a sun that sets, before they could even say “…lump.” Members were constantly assured that “…Justice was slow, but justice was sure” [former Prime Minister Dr. Baldwin Spencer [2004-2014]. When “…no arrests of previously assured public officials were made,” members became “…jaded; …disillusioned; …disgruntled and disinterested.” Then as membership dwindled, the group became inactive and defunct and ultimately, faded into oblivion. The Movement and its membership appeared to have died, when its founder “…Winston Derrick was called to Glory” [February 2, 2013]. His legacy as a “…Fighter for Press Freedom,” lives on. Then there was the emergence of several groups called “…Concerned Citizens-some elitist; …some for Justice and some for Environmental Awareness.”


These groups were followed by another called “…Lone Wolf.” Members who may have been seen to be “…attired in clothing, and exhibiting behaviors that may have been consistent with that of wolves,” though they had entered the “…Political Fray,” were effectively kept out of the “…Political Flock.” The membership of this group, had conducted pickets and marches, as they sought to bring pressure to bear on the “…Baldwin Spencer administration.” They wanted answers on several issues of “…great national import.” More recently, another “…Pressure Group,” has sprung up within the nation. Seemingly, intended to bring pressure to bear upon the “…Gaston Browne administration,” the group has identified itself as “…The Movement – (Ready to Rebel).” Clearly void of rebellious action, the Movement’s first public showing, took the form of a picket.


The “…Rebellious Connotations” of the Movement appeared to have contrasted that which may have been seen as “…good and noble intentions.” However, perceptions harbored, could see the ‘Movement’ being placed under certain radar, and under scrutiny. In fact, the membership shall be aware of an almost always “…dangling hammer” for “…indiscrete verbal attacks on the well-established political organizations.” Leading up to the recent general elections,” this may have been the experiences of the “…Lone Wolf group and its leadership, as it sought to bring pressure to bear on the “…Baldwin Spencer administration” [June 12, 2014]. This was evident by activities “…capable of being construed as “…counter-productive; …antagonistic; …adversarial and politically destabilizing.”


That which had prompted the “…Movement’s” picketing exercise, reportedly included (i) “…Substantial land incentives; (ii) …Lengthy leasehold; (iii) …Non-tax exemptions and non-payable revenues, and (iv) …pre-supposed negligible benefits for Antiguans and Barbudans.” The objective was to bring pressure upon the “…Gaston Browne administration” to re-visit its decisions. Controversy, however, reigned when members of the newly formed group,” uniformly attired in t/shirts with the words “…Ready to Rebel, emblazoned across the front,” questioned a “…demarcated distance of 100 yards away from the legislative bicameral Chamber.” They had not rebelled. Guided by legal interpretations, they had concluded that such distance had defeated the purposes of the exercise, allowable to be held “…outside official premises” [POA: Section 22 (2)]. Political analyst Arvel Grant had already indicated that “…this was a group to watch,” not only for its “…activism,” but also, (inferentially), in “…influencing the mind of the nation.”


Except for “…expressing dissatisfaction and disapproval over a government-approved major development project on Barbuda,” with “…substantial incentives to investors under the name Paradise Found,” the only “…Sign of Rebellion,” seen thus far, had been against three suspected “…Disciples of the Devil.” Seemingly moved by the spirit, religious leader, Pastor Paul Andrew of the Christian Assembly Ministries (CAM), followed by members of the Movement, reportedly visited a suspected “…House of Evil.” Ensuring that “…Indian Obeah” had not spread across the nation, the visitation had resulted in either the arrests or detention of “…three suspected Indian obeah practitioners” [Observer Media: November 17, 2015]. Notwithstanding their “…dark side; …beliefs and gullibility; …vulnerability and stupidity,” Law enforcement had discharged a fundamental duty in “…protecting the innocent citizens against deception and fraud” [Code of Ethics].


In respect to denial of the right to “…Freedom of Assembly and Association,” the case of “…Serial Marcher” Eugene Humphrey makes the point. Ironically, even after (i) …complying with the provisions of the Public Order Act; (ii) …owed protection of law,” he was denied permission to march” [October 11, 2011]. Seemingly smarting under a “…vague threat against the life of the applicant, ‘Serial Marcher’ Eugene Humphrey, he was reportedly “…Refused the issuance of a Permit” by law enforcement high command to march [October 11, 2011]. Such had provoked consternation and widespread public criticism that had prompted suggestions that “…freedom of assembly and/or association” as guaranteed in the Constitution, was under State attack [1981: CO. Section 13].


The Public Order Act provides for “…Ministerial Appeals” [Section 40]. The Act states “…Any person who is dissatisfied with the refusal of the Commissioner of Police to grant a permit under this Act, or with the terms of such permit, may within seven days of being notified of the decision of the Commissioner of Police, appeal in writing to the Minister” (National Security) [Section 40]. Thus, power resides with the designated Minister who may (i) “…Confirm the decision; (ii) …Reverse the decision, or (iii) …if granted with stipulated conditions, may vary such conditions.” Therefore, decisions that seemed to have “…run counter to the spirit of the law,” more particularly, “…suppressing freedoms contained in the Constitution,” such may necessitate invitation of ministerial interventions. Though it seemed unlikely that a Public Safety Minister will “…super-impose his authority,” upon powers that reside with the Commissioner of Police, decisions that seemed “…ultra vires the provisions of the Constitution,” either merit such interventions and/or visitations by the Judiciary upon such decisions.


The mindboggling refusal was appealed to National Security Minister, Dr. Errol Cort. Consequent upon his review, and seemingly satisfied that there may have been “…unreasonable infringements, resulting in curtailment of “…freedom of assembly and/or association,” he reversed the Commissioner’s decision [November 2011]. While the Act speaks to the “…Decision of the Minister as final” [Section 40], this in practical terms affects only the Commissioner of Police.” To an aggrieved applicant, there are always legal avenues for redress. For instance, there is the Judiciary to ascertain and determine whether there was “…infringement on constitutional freedoms and/or denial of the fundamental rights of the individual.” While public safety and preservation of public order, as contained in the law, dictate acute procedural and enforcement considerations, law enforcement must never give law abiding citizens impressions of “…organizational incompetence; …ineffectiveness or intolerance.”


The nation of Antigua and Barbuda, “…founded on the principles of democracy,” is known for its “…civility, tranquility and non-violent environment.” In a “…conflict-free environment, such as obtained in the nation, Law enforcement is expected to be more effective and assuring to the citizens.” In the case of “…The Movement and its picketing members,” they may have been given reasons to believe that “…Misinterpretation of provisions” contained in the Public Order Act [Section 22], may have been “…Misapplied in preventing a peaceful and lawful picket.” Thus, without reasonably apprehending that “…public disorder or threat to public safety,” hindrances to the conduct of a “…peaceful picket outside the official premises of Parliament,” may have given organizers reasons to feel that they had been “…penalized and/or prevented in the enjoyment of the freedom of assembly and/or association” [CO: Section 13]. It has always been the responsibility of the Police high command in (i) …Making threat assessment and analyses; (ii) …develop strategies and deploying sufficient number of personnel in protecting citizens,” whether individually or collectively, but more importantly, at lawful public gatherings.  Therefore, if anyone shall be given cause to harbor feelings of trepidation,” the lot shall not fall upon those whose obedience to law was known, and legitimately chose to “…exercise the fundamental rights and/or to enjoy the freedoms and liberties contained in the Constitution.” Law enforcement, therefore, shall not only understand the “…law and its application, but also the legal implications, and the “…social and cultural parameters and the political environment, within which they operate.”



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