Moral vs legal authority

Moral vs legal authority


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

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Errol Greene is my respected Baptist brother. I registered denominational pride as I watched him on TV news on Sunday, July 21, 2019 addressing a lay magistrates' gathering and raising questions on the moral authority of the police to arrest citizens for breaches of the law that the said police are guilty of.

Examples cited included arresting robot (illegal) taxis and minibuses when they own some of such vehicles; if you are a licensed firearm holder and miss relicensing your firearm by a day you could be arrested for having an unlicensed firearm by a cop whose firearm is also unlicensed, etc.

As I quietly kept saying, “Dats right, Sir Green, preach it,” it struck me that my esteemed brother might have been indulging a non sequitur (a logical blunder involving a conclusion that does not follow from a stated premise). But, thankfully, he did not assert as fact but raised rhetorical questions.

As I recall it, after citing a breach of law scenario by a citizen who is charged by the police who is also guilty of said breach he repeatedly queried, “What moral authority does the police have to…?”

You see, even if a policeman charges you for an offence of which he is guilty he has the legal authority to do that — though you may question his moral authority so to do.

Even if you could argue cogently that said policeman lacks moral authority for charging you for “using and uttering indecent language” to him in a heated disagreement you have with him in which he told you some “naasy dutty badwud”, as long as he is still a policeman he has the legal authority to charge you.

So then moral authority and legal authority may overlap, but not necessarily so and, for a police person, even if he/she lacks moral authority, he/she still possesses legal authority to arrest anyone who breaches a law. So, the police person's hypocrisy is no defence or plea of mitigation for the lawful charge he has slapped on you.

A classic movie example of this is in the Netflix series In the Line of Duty in which a high-ranking police officer is being investigated for alleged involvement with organised crime, and in the course of the investigation he surmises that a highly ranked official who was observing the proceedings was implicated for wrongdoing. He asked the chief examiner, “Am I still a police officer, Ma'am?”

Upon receiving the answer, “I guess so,” he proceeded to warn that highly ranked official for prosecution.

Moral authority in question, but legal authority intact!

Rev Clinton Chisholm is academic dean at Caribbean Graduate School of Theology. Send comments to the Observer or

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