Disability Rights Triumph!

The Sweet Taste of Equality!

7th July, 2007

President of the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter of Disabled Peoples' International (TTDPI), Mr. George Daniel today won a historic constitutional motion against the state for denying disabled people access to the Hall of Justice.

 

The landmark ruling was delivered in the San Fernando Supreme Court by High Court judge Justice Nolan Bereaux in Mr. Danielís favour. The judge granted a declaration that the state had violated the fundamental human right to liberty by failing to provide wheelchair access to the Hall of Justice. The court also made a mandatory order directing the state to immediately take all necessary steps and measures as necessary to provide access to disabled persons to the Hall of Justice.

 

Mr. Daniel had filed a Constitutional motion in March 2005 through civil rights attorney Anand Ramlogan on behalf of the disabled community.  Mr. Daniel complained that disabled persons were denied access to the Hall of Justice and were therefore being discriminated against. He said disabled persons could not serve as jurors, attend court, or visit to even listen to a case if they so desired

 

Mr. Daniel said the problem of inaccessibility was not confined to the Hall of Justice as many government buildings did not cater for persons with disabilities. He said however, access to the seat of justice should be of paramount importance and the judiciary should lead by example.

 

In hailing the historic ruling, attorney Anand Ramlogan told the court that it was not often that a case alleging violation of fundamental human rights is brought against the judicial arm of the state and the decision was one which augers well for the independence of the judiciary.  Attorney Ramlogan has made a call for all public buildings to be made wheelchair accessible.

One Disabled Man[1] vs. the Government (of Trinidad and Tobago)

 

From the Trinidad & Tobago Express 6 Newspaper dated Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

by Eugene Reynald

 

It was both disturbing and informative that the Manning Cabinet had to be taken to court to instruct it on making public buildings accessible to the physically challenged - and this had to be done a few months away from election. I say the Manning Cabinet because he appoints its members and they are all there at his sufferance; also, Cabinet is the de facto Parliament and effectively decides on, inter alia, the making and changing of laws and all else of importance.

 

Laws ensuring public access to buildings for the physically challenged were brought into being in the UK some 40 or more years ago and were done without having to be told to do so by a judge.

 

In this place a caring Cabinet, made up of representatives of the people, our Constitution tells us, all of whom are supposed to have this Vision 2020, watched, without even comment or concern, a lone representative of the physically challenged struggle through the courts of this land to get Cabinet to act properly and fairly. Neither Manning, Rowley, Saith, Valley, Jeremie, Robinson-Regis nor Rahael were able to see or even feel the wrong or injustice in this.

 

Is the court - what is left of it - the only means via which citizens can enforce their rights or get their representatives to act in their interest? Is it that our legislators are too insular, self-absorbed, corrupt and Third World to see the need for proper access to public buildings by the disabled? Couldn't Patrick Manning and his Cabinet deal with this matter long before it reached the courts? Is this evidence that Vision 2020 has already been corrupted?

 

Cabinet had the power to act anytime to correct the injustice in this matter and instead spent its time addressing the needs and concerns of others such as Alcoa and Alutrint and Genvar and Calder Hart and Ken Julien and the Chinese and Pinto and heaven knows who else and from wherever. Why did it not act in the interest of this quite large group of citizens and indeed all of us? If this solitary crusader and leader of the physically challenged had not taken action on this matter, given the evident unconcern and insensitivity of Cabinet, would public buildings have been made user friendly to the physically challenged by 2020? What is the learning to be had by us from all of this?

 

I wrote many years ago, when the Vision 2020 thing was first suggested by Valley, that visions are double-edged and if the hearts and minds of those seeking the Vision are not sincere and pure what you can get is a nightmare. I also wrote that it is the perfect con in that the trade-off is those selling the Vision are playing for their benefits in the present while they promise us ours in the future - that old con of selling pie in the sky. What difference has that Vision 2020 made to our lives to date?

 

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[1] Refers to Mr. George Daniel, 1st Executive Deputy Chair for Human Rights of Disabled Peoples' International (DPI), Executive Regional Chair of Disabled Peoples' International North America and the Caribbean (DPI NAC) and President of the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter of Disabled Peoples' International (TTDPI).