In the firing line: The future of Bermuda Regiment conscription is up in the air. *File photo by Kageaki Smith
In the firing line: The future of Bermuda Regiment conscription is up in the air. *File photo by Kageaki Smith
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The battle over the draft continued in London yesterday, with both sides in the debate hopeful of victory.

Protesters want to scrap conscription to the Bermuda Regiment but Government is standing firm.

The matter was heard by the Privy Council, our highest court of appeal, but a final decision could be weeks or months away.

On Monday, Jonathan Crow QC put forward the case for Bermudians Against the Draft (BAD) to a panel of five judges.

Their case is based on the claim conscription is discriminatory because only men are forced to serve.

They maintain the Bermuda government failed to take steps to make voluntary enlistment work.

BAD also say their call up notices were invalid and the decision to impose conscription was made without considering whether a quota should be fixed for a certain number of women to serve.

Yesterday, Rabinder Singh QC spoke on behalf of the Bermuda government while the judges asked questions.

Both sides left the Privy Council confident they had done all they could to win the case.

BAD spokesman Larry Marshall senior told the Bermuda Sun: "It went as well as to be expected. We always felt that we had a very strong case."

He added: "The Privy Council is the highest level. So from a legal position, we could not have done any more.

"It is disappointing to have to go to the Privy Council in 2010 because our country enforces forced labour.

"It is such an inherently evil system that has brought suffering to young men and their families for 44 years."

Jemel Hardtman, a member of Bermudians Against the Draft, told us that he was confident of victory on at least one of the arguments.

Mr. Hardtman, 28, of Pembroke said: "I am quite confident we will win on the voluntary argument - that government should actively recruit volunteers.

"We believe the government has been lazy in seeking voluntary recruits.

"But if we succeed on that ground that will only affect the 14 of us. Our aim is to get rid of conscription for generations to come.

Mr. Hardtman added: "Our chances of winning the discrimination argument are slim.

"I would like to believe it will happen but I 'm not sure.

"You could see by the reaction of Lady Hale [one of the judges] she was on our side and if she can convince the other judges who knows - we have a shot."

Mr. Hardtman said he was proud of what he and his co-protesters had achieved.

He added: "Win or lose Bermuda should be proud of this case.

"When we have spoken to taxi drivers and people in the U.K. to tell them why we are here they are surprised that Bermuda still has conscription.

"And they have been sympathetic to our case.

"But we are dealing with human beings here - it is not always about what is wrong and right.

"It has been a learning experience for Bermuda - it has shown that 14 guys can make a noise but it is going to take a whole country to make a change happen."

Counsel for BAD Delroy Duncan added: "Judges Brown and Saville appeared unsympathetic to the arguments advanced by BAD.

"Lady Hale openly declared that she was in favour of BAD's discrimination argument provided it could properly be read with the Bermuda Human Rights Act.

"The court was not sympathetic to the arguments on a quota system or that the call-up notices were unlawfully issued.

"The three points the court will now determine the appeal on are the discrimination point, the combined pre-condition and error of law point and the duty of candour point."

Attorney General Kim Wilson told the Sun she was confident the decision of the Supreme Court would not be overturned.

Ms Wilson, who was in London to watch the proceedings, said: "I think the majority view in Bermuda is there is an important role for the Regiment.

"Not only to aid in cases of disaster but also to aid with civil authority.

"Even though the court has reserved its judgement, and one can never be overly confident in terms of trying to guess what the Privy Council will decide, I am fairly confident that they will uphold the decision of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court."

Additional reporting by Helen Jardine