How they go free
Real weekly fans of this column would have recognised, over the past seven years, that I have allowed myself to have pre-occupations with certain topics and themes. Had I the time and resources I would have studied, for example, worldwide immigration and emigration, the economy of narco-trafficking and the consequential implications for people’s morals, African under-achievement in a material world and the rule of law and how justice is dispensed. (If wishes were horses...)
Because I can’t find a copy, or my notes, I explore cursorily again the high incidence of guilty accused happily falling through our justice system because of prosecutorial deficiencies or what the law allows judges and magistrates to decide. In short, a few examples of how
the obviously guilty go free.
An attorney, weeks ago, questioned the composition and system of juries, a letter-writer to the press raised again the strategies of prominent “flamboyant and influential lawyers” vis-a-vis hard evidence presented; scheduling of cases and the long delays in delivering written judgments. Often, cases are dismissed because “not enough evidence to convict? was offered to the court. A few days ago charges of causing grievous bodily harm were dismissed because the magistrate found that “all the police witnesses differed materially from one another”.
Mind you, under normal circumstances, it is easy to point out the guilty party. But proving it in law, to satisfy the court’s criteria, is something else. Just recently a judge invoked certain sections of the Criminal Law Procedure Act to rule in favour of the Defence because of “unreasonable delay”. The section provides for proceedings of that nature to be stayed when the delay is due to inability of the prosecution to make witnesses available. Often, charges are withdrawn when witnesses are out of the jurisdiction, unavailable, or files and evidence go missing.
Three weeks ago the Guyana Court of Appeal freed a manslaughter convict because it found that the judge’s summing up lacked “judicial captaincy”. The expert defence advocated got the highest court to agree on many shortcomings in the trial judge’s summing up including “material non-direction”, lack of directions regarding a witness’ “interest to serve” and guidance not given with respect to self-defence regardless of the force used.
My usual point is: are not our prosecutors as capable as the defence? Our Westernised system of justice decides that whether an accused committed a crime or not, all criteria of law to convict must be fully met for the aggrieved to get justice. Crooks go free because the defence is better (prepared) than the prosecution. Or the
judge did a poor job!
From elections petitions to granting injunctions, the Judiciary has powers that can decide the future of our society, our progress or stultification. Right or wrong becomes the subject of what the law determines. What’s the alternative? I should perhaps also study Islamic law before I die?
Human nature, whether it’s admitted or not, often panders to the negative, the baser instincts that reside in all of us, the sensational.
Certain television “stations” in Georgetown exploit fact to the fullest. Whether they have political agendas or not, the competition dictates that they attempt to outdo one another presenting vulnerable viewers with bad news more than good tidings or little pleasant things. And Guyana and the world have no shortage of the terrible. Crime, tragedy, death and sex sell more than positive developments in a village - except when all can benefit materially. This is the case in all societies developed and struggling.
So this evening check your favourite T.V. newscast: note the number of stories/items on
political wrangling, floods, crime, discrimination and traffic accidents.
Then compare those offerings with the number of more positive pieces. You’ll see what I mean. Politics, race and other sensitive subjects predominate, many a time for the obvious reason of denigrating the authorities - or implying ineptitude.
But I have to be fair. The media’s watchdog role is vital. The overt and covert objectives which are antiestablishment are part and parcel of an open society, but they should not be laced with mischief, incitement and subversive partisan offerings. Projecting bad news crises and governmental and societal shortcomings might be the only way for certain T.V. outfits to stay alive. But good things are still happening for us. Even if the state media make them sound too utopian at times.
(In honour of the late SN columnist Arthur Allan Fenty, who authored a column on Fridays in this newspaper for 30 years, Stabroek News will be running some of his earliest contributions. This piece is taken from the June 30th, 2000 edition.)
1. Mild reaction to my Walter Rodney Memorial supplement still filters in: Do I want to add to the demonisation of Burnham? Why bring up that sordid past?
Well, of course not I! There was no better follower of LFSB than I, until absolute power took hold.
Political beatings, lining up from midnights for gas, body-searches at the airports (of females), police torture, blacklists and a rigidly controlled press were all historical fact and must be recounted alongside with the grand accounts of Burnham’s undoubted achievements.
2. Likely President of Suriname, Ronald Venetiaan, told Stabroek News that the 1991 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which resulted from the 1989 Agreement between Presidents Hoyte and Shankar, could not have been implemented partly
because the details of such an agreement “would require Suriname to desist from pressing its claim to the area.”
Let’s hope that there is compromise but, it is true: I “joint development” implies dual or common ownership. At least for some period.
3. Herdmanston Accord or Legislative Statute, notwithstanding, the Elections Commission will find a way to explain the improbability of elections in January next year.
I shall no longer expect Mr Hoyte to pronounce on it.
Peace Be Unto the Commission and Georgetown, next January.
3b. Mr H.D. Hoyte on the government and Beal: “Beal will discover that it cannot be in its best interest to take advantage of the deficiencies of a weakkneed, corrupt, ignorant and illegitimate government to obtain concessions so outrageous ... it ought to be clear to everyone that a fierce battle looms ahead”. Wow! ‘Buse’ like first time. Should I get scared?
4. I think Mr Dev responded to Mr Dalgety adequately - on Fiji. Until I return to this next time, I ask Tom: What happens when the Indians leave Fiji and the Europeans leave Zimbabwe?
5. Who, or which are these fifteen political parties
we have in this place? Tell me Keith and Hubert, will they qualify?
б. Undue notice should not be paid to those “occasional Guyanese” who are merely mischievous when visiting the Land of their Birth. Their “contributions” are welcome before they return to their other homes. But I’m disappointed with T.V. know-all, belly-button Bill, for the item on Cassandra’s identity.
`Til next week!