So while the grass is growing, the horse must starve, Dr Barnett?

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

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You won't find us questioning the abilities of Dr Lloyd Barnett, who is widely regarded as one of, if not Jamaica's foremost constitutional lawyers. But, frankly, he has left us entirely befuddled by his support for the end to the limited states of emergency (SOE).

Dr Barnett, writing in the Sunday Observer, made what was nothing short of a stout defence of the decision by the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) to vote against extending the SOEs in St James, Northern St Catherine and parts of Kingston and St Andrew.

Like many human rights activists who mean well, he has thrown himself behind the people whom he alleges are being mistreated in detention and shown scant regard for the people who are losing their lives and those left cowering in fear for their lives.

Dr Barnett lectures the country thus: “The constitution is our supreme law. As in many democratic countries Jamaica's Constitution provides special constitutional protection for the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals…”

We have never in these columns argued in favour of disregarding the guidance of the Jamaican Constitution. But we have a sense that the framers of our constitution understood that “circumstances alter cases”. The bloodshedding was beyond us all.

To argue that constitutionality is the ultimate issue, while seeming to ignore the right to life, is to betray common sense. One can fix poor conditions in detention, but one cannot give back the life that was taken. Surely, Dr Barnett knows that.

We do not quite get his complaint that the national debate over the Opposition's refusal to support the extension “has been conducted to a great extent without regard for the constitutional principles by which we are bound or the rational analysis which the situation demands”.

That is pure unadulterated hogwash, Dr Barnett.

The vast majority of those who contend that the Opposition was wrong in its position against the extension have based their views on the timing, simply saying that it was wrong to pull the rug from under the security forces, just as they had the gunmen on the run.

They have argued, moreover, that added time was necessary to formulate a credible crime plan that would be implemented and thereafter take the place of the SOEs. In other words, the SOEs would provide the necessary breathing space.

We have seen a brisk rise in the number of killings since the start of the year, and more specifically since the vote to end the SOEs.

Indeed, in his entire article only once did he mention the right to life, and not in defence of it, but to give an opinion in support of the end to the SOEs. “There has, in fact, been a decline in murders in the emergency and ZOSO neighbourhoods. The fundamental human right to life has therefore been served by these extraordinary measures.

“It is, however, quite clear that the charter mandates that these extraordinary measures should be of limited duration and be continued for no longer than it is necessary.”

Our question for Dr Barnett is: On what basis has he determined that the SOEs are no longer necessary when the leadership of the security forces have said otherwise?

Dr Barnett's treatise on the constitution and the charter of rights offers little comfort to those who live under the threat of the gun.

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