JamBar must remain even-handed in its rebuke

Letters to the Editor

JamBar must remain even-handed in its rebuke

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

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Dear Editor,

The treatment of some cases by our courts has, in recent times, attracted public commentary by individuals within the legal fraternity, which is now a cause for concern. This concern arises from the fact that such commentary is quite often unfair and does not reflect the reality of the particular situation at hand. The overall effect, therefore, is to create a state where the judiciary is brought into disrepute at the instance of lawyers who are, themselves, officers of the court.

For the avoidance of any doubt, the judiciary is not beyond criticism. Indeed, Lord Atkin in Ambard v The Attorney General for Trinidad and Tobago [1936] AC 322 commented that, “Justice is not a cloistered virtue; she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men.” His Lordship's proviso, however, was that “members of the public should abstain from imputing improper motives to those taking part in the administration of justice…” He continued by saying that criticism should not be for those acting in malice or attempting to impair the administration of justice.

There is no doubt that there is freedom of expression. It is provided in Section 13(3)(c) of the Charter of Rights of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of our constitution. However, it ought not to be abused. With every right comes a responsibility. Indeed, more than anyone else, those learned in the law should have a keen sense of appreciation where this is concerned. Within this context, of some surprise therefore, were the comments made by our attorney general in relation to what was represented to be the court's position on the constitutionality and the detention of persons under the Emergency Powers Act. Without applying any independent verification, our attorney general's reaction was to suggest that this was another instance in which the court was deviating from the law, both procedurally and substantially.

Perhaps, as a result of the quick and sharp rebuke by the Jamaican Bar Association (JamBar), the attorney general was constrained to express publicly her support for the judiciary. Regrettably, however, JamBar did not apparently see it fit to, with equal fervour, condemn those members of our own profession who, by their public utterances, misrepresented the formal position of the court on the very matter which ignited a response from the attorney general. Leaving it as it is, JamBar has left itself open to the attack of the political activists in this the silly season, who may see its critique as being tribal. JamBar must be seen as even-handed and should not waiver in its criticism, even when it concerns its own ordinary members.

The media, in part, is not without blame, as never before now has its membership been so populated with journalists who are themselves attorneys-at-law. Within this context it is apparent that, in some instances, the desire to gain an edge over their competitors to be the first to publish 'breaking court news', the process of verification by journalists qua lawyers falls low on the agenda. It is within this atmosphere that the various social media platforms are populated by misinformation and in some cases intemperate remarks by some of its users. It appears that the most commonly used social media platform is Twitter, and it may well beg the question whether Twitter is not for twits.

We need to rise above it all and be responsible in our comments; being always faithful to the truth, irrespective of the issues of the day.

Peter Champagnie, QC

Kingston 6

peter.champagnie@gmail.com


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