Putting jus­tice on trial

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Ron­ald Ma­son Ron­ald Ma­son is an at­tor­ney-at­law and Supreme Court me­di­a­tor. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and na­tion­sagenda@gmail.com.

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.

CON­VE­NIENT TAR­GETS

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.

NE­GLECTED JU­DI­CIARY

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.

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