Re­spect­ing our fun­da­men­tal rights

The Star (Jamaica) - - FRONT PAGE -

The news from St El­iz­a­beth last week that a 64-year-old pas­tor, Ru­pert Clarke, was charged un­der the Sex­ual Of­fences Act with hav­ing sex with a mi­nor, a girl un­der the age of 16, is hor­ri­fy­ing. But com­ments on so­cial me­dia and else­where raised many other im­por­tant is­sues. Just to be clear, since Clarke is charged and placed be­fore the court, the mat­ter is ex­pected to pro­ceed to com­mit­tal pro­ceed­ings and pos­si­bly trial in the Cir­cuit Court. If the case goes to trial, a jury of his peers will de­cide his guilt or in­no­cence based on the ev­i­dence pre­sented in court and the di­rec­tions in law given by the pre­sid­ing judge. Th­ese mat­ters are usu­ally tried in-cam­era [with­out the pub­lic be­ing present] and so the me­dia will not be present or be per­mit­ted to pub­lish ev­i­dence of the trial. Thus, at the end, what the pub­lic will know is whether or not Clarke is guilty and, if so, the sen­tence im­posed by the judge. It is also re­ported that Heather Mur­ray, a prin­ci­pal of a prom­i­nent high school in the par­ish, at­tended the bail hear­ing in the par­ish court.

In so­cial me­dia and else­where, the prin­ci­pal was harshly crit­i­cised; and some even called on her to re­sign.

This re­sponse from sec­tions of the pub­lic, in­clud­ing Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party coun­cil­lor Kari Dou­glas, is trou­bling and raises is­sues as to the re­spect that must be shown for the prin­ci­pal’s fun­da­men­tal right to peace­ful as­sem­bly and as­so­ci­a­tion as pro­vided for in our Con­sti­tu­tion.

While the op­tics of the prin­ci­pal sit­ting in a court­room to al­legedly pro­vide sup­port to an ac­cuser of a sex­ual of­fence might not look good, the prin­ci­pal, like any Ja­maican cit­i­zen, has a right to en­ter a court that is open to the pub­lic and lis­ten to the pro­ceed­ings with­out hav­ing to give any ex­pla­na­tion to any­one.

The prin­ci­pal has noth­ing to an­swer to or apol­o­gise for. Coun­cil­lor Dou­glas is clearly out of or­der and is show­ing scant re­gard for the laws of Ja­maica.

At this stage, Clarke is deemed to be in­no­cent un­til proven guilty. He should not be con­demned just yet. The pub­lic should await the jury’s ver­dict.

It is also re­ported that the prin­ci­pal blocked a pho­tog­ra­pher who was try­ing to take a pic­ture of the ac­cused man.

If true, this is com­mend­able in that she might have saved the pho­tog­ra­pher from pros­e­cu­tion, as the law is clear that per­sons in cus­tody must not be pho­tographed within the precincts of the court.

Go­ing for­ward, it might be wise for coun­cil­lor Dou­glas and oth­ers to show greater re­spect for the rights of oth­ers and the laws of Ja­maica. We should all wait on the jury’s ver­dict.

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