Judge Ellis compiles prisoners ‘check list’

National, Normal


JUDGE Graham Ellis held an inquiry at the Waigani Court House yesterday to ask Correctional Services Minister Tony Aimo and CS Commissioner Richard Sikani what has been done to address the deteriorating condition of Baisu jail in Western Highlands which had resulted in the death of six inmates early this month.
He had summoned them to appear before him to explain why the jails he had visited were well below the accepted minimum standard of human living.
Ellis said he was now compiling a checklist of conditions at jails he, or his fellow judges, had or would be visiting to determine whether they met the minimum required international standard in the prisons which were also in line with human rights standards set in the constitution.
This checklist provides for what is needed in the jail facilities.
“So a visiting judge with the checklist in hand can go through it when visiting a prison, and see if the prisons are meeting the minimum standards,” he said.
“The normal practice when I’m on a circuit visit is to inspect the jails, so that when I sentence a prisoner, I know of the condition of the prison he is sent to.
“I visited Mukurumanda jail (Enga), prison officers were there but there were no prisoners. Where were the prisoners?” he asked Sikani, who replied that they, mostly remandees, were sent to Baisu jail in the Western Highlands.
Ellis, who was based in Enga’s provincial capital of Wabag, told Aimo and Sikani that when he visited Baisu on one occasion there was one toilet for 83 people.
“Ten months later, people are dying in Baisu.
“These were remandees from Mukurumanda jail because of the work done on the facility there,” Sikani told the judge.
Question: Were the Health authorities aware of the conditions at Baisu?
Answer: Part of the problem is there is not enough water supplied because of illegal connections but these have been removed by the PNG Waterboard.
Sikani told the inquiry that there were about 700 prisoners at Baisu of which, the judge noted, at least 389 were from Enga.
Ellis said: “I want to make it clear that this is not an investigation for those deaths, that is for the coroners but in becoming a national court judge, I took an oath to uphold the constitution.
“I do not have the option of sitting back and doing nothing as the Constitution casts on me, as a judge, the duty to protect the human rights of the people of Papua New Guinea, including its prisoners.
“I can understand people have difficulty with provisions of the constitution, example section 37. What does that mean on the ground, to the prisoners?
“If I were to prepare the checklist to be made available to judges who visit prisons, they can check whether women are kept separate from men, the juveniles separate from convicted prisoners.  
“These provisions are translated into checklists for the humane treatment of prisoners.   
“The words are given some practical effects,” Ellis said, adding that when the prisons meet human rights standards, it prevented the problem of people bringing claim for damages against the state.