Breaking the rule of law


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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In Jamaica the rule of law is paramount, a legacy handed down to us by colonial Britain. One of the cornerstones of this law is the sub judice rule which means there should not be any public comment or discussion on a case under judgement before the court. As a young journalist covering the courts, I held this rule sacrosanct, understood why it was necessary and important, and I respected it. In those days lawyers and journalists desisted from discussing or commenting on any matter before the court publicly, as by doing so they could well alter the course of justice.

However, things have changed since then. Beginning about two years ago attorneys-at-law, some up to the level of Queen's Counsel, started giving interviews on cases before the courts. Some came immediately out of court and made statements. A few journalists commented on cases while proceedings were taking place. All this is wrong and unacceptable.

As far as I know, no member of the judiciary or Bar Association has ever spoken out against this practice publicly until the president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Seymour Panton, hit out against it at a function about two weeks ago.

He is quoted as saying in the November 17 edition of the Jamaica Observer that it is a very dangerous thing to be going on the radio and television and commenting on cases in which they are involved while the cases are in progress. Lawyers who are doing this should pause and consider whether people with special interests are fuelling the asking of these questions, with a view to prejudicing the outcome of the cases.

Justice Panton then urged lawyers to shun these publicity stunts, because they are aimed at selling newspapers and increasing audiences for television and radio. It was a courageous statement by the president. Of course, the answer lies in the hands of the judges themselves. They should start citing lawyers for contempt of court. This might seem a simple step, but no one knows where it will lead. As Justice Panton said: "Cut it out".

Importance of education

I think it is time for the government to launch a public education campaign on the importance of education. Great strides have been made in the public's appreciation of education at all levels. Much progress has been made since the introduction of representative government in 1944. The spread of education at the primary, secondary, tertiary and university levels has been remarkable, and today it is education that is the determinant of the standard of living for most of the population. But there are small pockets of the population that do not fully appreciate the value of education. Like those women who buy expensive hairpieces while their children do not have lunch money or books to attend classes.

In Jamaica, traditionally at the lower level of the society, most higglers, vendors and farmers place priority on the education of their children. Over many years, I have noted cases across the country where families were able to have social mobility, and got out of the ghetto after their children completed their education at whatever level and started to work.

In every progressive country education plays an immensely critical role in human development. Take the black people of the United States of America, for example: the ending of segregation in public schools by the decision of the US Supreme Court in 1954 led to a great leap forward by black Americans to professions and other areas of human endeavour and produced some great Afro-American leaders, including President Barack Obama. Without education, distinguished Jamaicans might have perished in the dust.

Chief Justice Warren, in delivering the historic decision of the court in the Brown v the School Board of Topeka, Kansas, underlined the importance of education. He said: "Today, education is perhaps the most important function of the state and local government. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditure for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today, it is a principal instrument in awakening the child in cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be able to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made to all in equal terms."

The central issue in the case was whether segregation of children in public schools, solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other tangible factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities. The court believed it did, and ruled in favour of desegregation which changed the course of the education system for black students forever and gave the country generations of distinguished Afro-American scholars, diplomats, engineers, soldiers, politicians, doctors, professors and public servants, who have contributed to the development and welfare of the country in many areas.

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