Putting justice on trial
THE JAMAICAN justice system is under heavy scrutiny. Because of a conflation of matters, it is also under assault. But what is worthy of analysis is the aspect of the assault.
The case of Khajeel Mais’ horrific death in July 2011 has been made a cause célèbre because of the chatter in the society being stoked primarily by talk-show hosts who seek to sensationalise rather than to educate.
Let us look at what transpired in that painful episode. A youngster was shot dead. The death arose after a collision between two vehicles, one of which was a taxi with young Mais as a passenger. There is no evidence in the public domain that established Patrick Powell as the operator of the other vehicle. There is no evidence as to whose firearm was discharged. There is no evidence of a shooter being identified.
Now these are all pertinent, relevant facts that would need to be established to sustain a trial and, probably, conviction for the slaughter of the 17year-old schoolboy. However, what we have is the public’s empathy over the tragic death of the young man being sensationalised by talk radio.
Talk radio, in its hype, wants ‘justice’, and hosts latch on to convenient targets without even cursory education about the rules of evidence. They clamour for the conviction of Mr Powell because he is seen as the big man driving an X6, which they perceive as the other damaged vehicle in the collision. This, of itself, raises questions as to why young Mais was shot and not the taxi driver. This does not answer the traces of gunpowder found on the hand of young Mais.
Talk-show hosts, in their broadside against the courts, feed into the dangerous notion that whenever there is a case between a man of wealth and the average citizen, the man of wealth will always win. The availability of evidence be damned! If this line of thinking does not find favour with the courts, blame is then directed to highpriced lawyers and the power of money.
When the director of public prosecution DPP, on public media, says that details found in Statement No. 2 could only come from the taxi driver, she seeks to exonerate the police. They have as much details as, if not more – as the taxi driver. It’s not unfamiliar for the police to have been convicted and thrown behind bars for the creation of witness statements.
That is what threatens the justice system – the collusion by the police, the cover-up provided by the DPP’s office; the hysteria of the talk shows; and misinformation on social media that inflames passions rather than educates about the role of defence counsel. This is what should give everybody concern.
When the inference is left that because chief defence counsel was formerly the attorney general of Jamaica, he must have participated to determine the outcome of the case, we then allow the germination of the idea that justice is only available to the highest bidder. Dangerous!
The justice system came under attack from a politician with a public perception for flip-flopping from JLP to PNP, back to JLP, and with the penchant and ability to believe that the volume and tenor of his utterances somehow make them fiats from God. His display in relationship to the squatters at 85 Red Hills Road should cause every person in this country who has a lawful, legal title to real estate cringe at the potential to be deprived of your title’s value, solely for political reasons.
Karl Samuda, in his broadside against the judge, displayed the worst use of raw, cheap, partisan politics. What is more distressing is that he targeted the judge, knowing fully well the judge would not respond.
The subsequent judicial proceedings have brought a halt to this assault on private property. Somehow, the fact that Dr Horace Chang was his ally in all of this should be of no surprise. But this must be an eye-opener to any potential overseas investor. They need to understand clearly that the politics of Jamaica, as played by this administration, is to take from those who have and distribute it to those who covet. What a surprising turnaround for the party of the late national hero, Sir Alexander Bustamante, that merged with the Farmers’ Party.
We await the unfolding of the next chapter, but Karl Samuda needs to be reminded that history records that many people have fought and died for the right to own and possess private property.
It is unfortunate that these two incidents place the spotlight on a judiciary that has been neglected, underfunded and allowed to deteriorate to the point where personalities have become more important than process and procedure. It is not from lack of knowledge by those who should know, but justice has never been sexy or loaded with votes. What it has been is a labour of love, application of competence and the perseverance, despite the great odds. The Half-Way Tree Parish Court is most times akin to a cattle pen. Everyone knows the constant delays in the trial courts. Everybody associated with justice is underpaid and the working conditions leave a lot to be desired. Then to have the nation bombarded by politicians and talk-show hosts with lies, damn lies and character assassination must be difficult to take.
When the system grinds to a halt, the politicians who make up the ‘Gangs of Gordon House’ and their minions will understand the negative, detrimental consequences of their actions.