Bar Association raps attorney general

Bar Association raps attorney general

Saturday, July 25, 2020

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THE Jamaican Bar Association (JBA) has flayed Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte for comments she made about Wednesday's ruling of a Supreme Court judge that the detention of five men under the ongoing states of emergency (SOE) is unconstitutional, and urged her to make a retraction.

The attorney general, in a tweet later that evening, said “if ever our #CourtsofLaw” cease to be guided by, or apply the law and instead become courts of public opinion, special interest, personal interest or anything less, then therein lies the biggest threat to our democracy”.

In an earlier tweet the attorney general said “media reports about unconstitutionality of detention under #SOPE in matter ruled by single judge who heard the application for writ of habeas corpus cannot be correct”.

In a statement yesterday, the attorney general said it was never her intention to either attack any judge or undermine public confidence in the judiciary. “It is truly regrettable that my comments have been so interpreted,” she said. “The judiciary of Jamaica can be assured of my unwavering support and that of the Administration of which I am a part,” she added.

“The Jamaican Bar Association notes with concern the statements of the attorney general of Jamaica that suggest that the judgements of the court are not guided by the law, that the law is put aside 'both procedurally and substantially', and that 'matters are determined in other ways',” the JBA said in a statement yesterday.

“We consider such statements to have the effect of undermining public confidence in the judiciary and the rule of law. For an attorney-at-law, particularly the attorney general of Jamaica who is designated under Section 79 of the Constitution of Jamaica to be the 'principal legal advisor to the Government of Jamaica' and therefore can be deemed to be stating the views of the Government of Jamaica when making such statements, is deeply concerning,” it added.

“The promotion and upholding of public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary and the sanctity of judicial rulings is of central importance to our entire system of justice. We call upon the learned attorney general to publicly withdraw such utterances and to publicly support our system of justice from which all Jamaicans benefit,” the association said further.

Justice Bertram Morrison, in his oral judgement on Wednesday, reportedly stated that “a man's freedom could not be arbitrarily taken away without a final determination by the court”. He said further that the Emergency Powers Act (EPA), the Emergency Powers Regulation (EPR), and detention orders are in breach of the constitution. The judge also pointed out that in a free and democratic society, a man cannot be detained until the end of the state of emergency.

The ruling was handed down after attorneys for the men filed separate legal challenges.

The written judgement is expected to be made available next week.

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