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Legality of criminal libel laws challenged in Bahamas
Published on April 13, 2017Email To Friend    Print Version

Maria Daxon (C) was arrested last year and charged with criminal libel. Photo: Nassau Guardian

NASSAU, Bahamas -- Maria Daxon, a former police constable and vocal defender for the rights of police officers, has filed a constitutional challenge against The Bahamas’ criminal libel laws, arguing that they violate citizens’ fundamental right to freedom of expression.

In December 2016, Daxon was charged with intentional libel concerning alleged statements written about Commissioner of Police Ellison Greenslade and Assistant Commissioner of Police Leon Bethell.

In March, the prosecutor sought an adjournment due to the unavailability of the complainants, and Daxon’s lawyer, Fred Smith QC, indicated his intention to challenge the laws under which she had been charged, calling them a violation of the Bahamas Constitution.

It is alleged that Daxon, between August 26 and August 30, 2016, wrote defamatory statements about Greenslade and Bethell, which were likely “to injure and expose” the officers to “general hatred, contempt or ridicule.”

Daxon’s constitutional challenge, filed on April 11, seeks a declaration that the charge of intentional libel is “void, illegal and of no effect” as it represents a breach of her constitutional right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 23(1) of the Bahamas Constitution, the country’s supreme law.

It also requests that Magistrate Andrew Forbes either quash or dismiss the proceedings Daxon, and declare that Section 315 (2) of the Penal Code, which provides for the offence of criminal intentional libel, is unconstitutional. This would effectively remove the offence from the country’s law books.

The filing also calls for the commissioner of police to pay Daxon’s legal costs in connection with the case, and also pay damages for bringing an unconstitutional challenge against her in the first place.

In recent years, criminal libel laws have come under serious challenge around the world, with a number of countries declaring them unconstitutional. Over the past two decades alone several Commonwealth countries have abolished these laws, including: Britain, Jamaica, Grenada, New Zealand, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Sri Lanka.

In 2009, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled that jailing under such laws violated international treaties on freedom of expression.

Criminal libel has been criticised by virtually every international authority on freedom of expression, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, the European Court of Human Rights and the International Press Institute.
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