The impeaching of Delroy Chuck, QC?


The impeaching of Delroy Chuck, QC?


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

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The statement by Delroy Chuck, minister of justice, that was critical of the way the police acted in taking former minister of education and others in custody attracted nationwide attention with a call on the prime minister to demote him. This would be laughable but for the fact that so many believe it was misconduct that deserves some form of reprimand, including Chuck himself who withdrew the statement as being inappropriate for the minister of justice.

It is not necessary to repeat the actual words used by Chuck to chastise the police when what is considered here is the right of anyone, including a minister of government, a journalist, a member of the clergy, or just a plain Joe to openly express condemnation of the police for what is seen as an unnecessary show of excessive force in carrying out their duty.

This small incident is of some significance in the wider context of crime and violence in the society in which the hullabaloo with Chuck is a microcosm of that bigger problem and how to deal with it.

Equalise up, not down

A whole page in The Gleaner of Thursday, October 17 was taken up with opinions on the statement by Chuck about the way the police handled the arrest of five individuals charged with corruption. Writing from the Boulevard Baptist Church, an otherwise respected pastor states: Minister of justice and DPP very wrong – a statement that may wrongly convey the impression that he was writing on behalf of his congregation who would be responsible for what he wrote, as it would also be wrong to imply that whatever Delroy Chuck said must be understood as coming from the minister with portfolio responsibility for justice as a policy statement from the ministry, which is now the ground for impeachment. Newspapers usually carry an exclusion note to indicate that what is printed is not necessarily the view of the paper.

The director of public prosecutions (DPP) will no doubt speak for herself, if necessary. In this regard, my only wish is for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to take responsibility for prosecuting this highly politically charged case through all its stages, rather than allowing it to private counsel.

Forlornly, I express disappointment that Chuck withdrew his statement, instead of sticking to what he honestly believed in the circumstances of this particular case, and bawling out against this conduct by whoever, whenever and wherever it takes place in the society.

There is a recent video going around that displays this type of unnecessary show of force by the police manhandling a skinny, half-naked youth being taken into custody for whatever reason, about which there is a respectful silence. What has happened to the summons for a person to appear at court?

One of my first jobs after leaving school was at the Courts office, where I wrote summonses for persons to attend court for police and private prosecutions. I can name many who had that early learning experience on their way to distinguished careers in the legal profession.

Here we have the portrayal of simple facts to draw a conclusion of interference by the minister in police business against a background of political sensitivity — a charade for alleging selective justice using scriptures for playful deception and the inviolability of organisations in the Ministry of Finance to further mislead. This is done to call for the prime minister to put the minister on probation — like what he appears to be doing to the Cabinet minister assigned to education — a sanction for speaking out of turn.

These are the articles for what must be the high crime and misdemeanour as alleged in the reverend gentleman's statement impeaching the minister of justice (not Chuck):

Count 1: The possible undermining of the operations of the Financial Investigations Division of the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency, and the Constabulary Financial Unit of the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Division;

Count 2: The minister seemed to have usurped the role of the prime minster for speaking on police operation.

Wrong again: The police falls under the authority of the Ministry of National Security.

These allegations, besides being a ridiculous restraint on free speech for Chuck, beg the question of whether he spoke on behalf of the Government, as a Cabinet minister, for which he should be sanctioned, and, more importantly, whether what was said merits his comment — no one has said it didn't. His offence was a crime of omission identified as selective justice in a vacuum, without evidence to be heard otherwise.

Chuck's withdrawal has left me hanging out alone for this small-scale version of the greater problem, defending individuals against the State's excessive use of force. Paradoxically, in this case the accuser became the accused – Delroy Chuck's criticism of the police lands him being accused of protecting an accused person for political reasons; a situation not unknown on the plantations. The remedy is not to deny Ruel Reid his rights and dignity as an accused with the presumption of innocence.

Clearly, at this stage of our Independence, Jamaicans should know and strongly support the rule of law that demands equal treatment for all with respect for the human rights and dignity of the individual, allowing justice to flow freely and fairly without obstruction or detour for political reasons.

The rest of the coverage was taken up with avuncular-like advice for Delroy Chuck to have a talk with his daughter and some jottings that regard the issue as political mis-association. The allegation of political mis-association introduces a deeper dimension to the problem: What should a political representative of the people do about known wrongdoers in his constituency? The late Edward Seaga provided his answer — he handed over their names to the police.

Strangely, this question arises from Chuck's association with a former minister of government in Cabinet, extrapolated to political mis-association. Nonetheless, the jotter answers the question saying, “Political mis-associations favour the few and, like corruption, deprives the citizenry of objective representation and protection. Every time such issues surface, we must not only disparage the offenders, but turn the issues into election determinants. Force politicians to be more discerning and discountenance untenable associations.”

This must be why Chuck took flight, having been associated with Ruel Reid in the Cabinet.

Earlier the jottings had some sound advice in a question: “Why should there have been any difference in the actions of the security forces in this instance as against the dozens of ordinary Jamaicans being unceremoniously rounded up like cattle during routine operations in high crime areas?”

As well: “...[M]isplaced empathy prevails, politicians like Chuck should remember that the rule of law applies to everyone just as much as the unseemly actions of the security forces when taking suspects into custody.”

Hail Chuck for speaking out, not standing by in silence for the unseemly actions of the security forces. We must equalise up, not down.

Silence kills

It is good to hear that the Government and Opposition are talking about crime, but where did we hear the voice of the people in this conversation when 34 people were murdered last week? Why are the people not heard at the announcement to extend the state of emergency for another three months to hold down crime in affected areas? How much longer will the people meekly tolerate this high level of murder and the hardships and inconvenience of the states of emergency and not take action against these troubles to end them? Hearing and seeing action by the citizenry against crime is needed for the protection and comfort of each other. That is the message that brought us from enslavement to independence, not waiting for backra massa to free us.

Don't only blame a Government for the continuum of violence; using the police and soldiers in a show of force is not the answer. A Government cannot quell murder without the active participation of the people. We must blame ourselves individually and collectively for putting up with what is happening in silence and with inactivity. The voice of the people must always be heard answering the trumpet call for action against unlawful or excessive force from whatever source, more so from among themselves knowing that “each man's death diminishes me”. It is the silence that kills.

We need to re-educate ourselves away from violence and indiscipline. Induct missionaries of peace in an army for salvation and brotherhood to replace the ineffective use of force in the constabulary. This should be the mission for every State-sponsored social intervention and every assembly of the people, whether it be church, political party, or schools at all levels, where there is more to unite us than the little that divides us.

The sacrifices of our heroes for Emancipation and Independence has left Jamaicans mentally on the plantations in subjugation to the rule of force, now serving out a period of apprenticeship for full freedom with respect for the human rights and dignity of each other. This mental block is the big problem that feeds crime, where only we ourselves can free our minds. This will not happen while we keep doing the same thing over and over as Backra Massa did to deal with crime. The days on the plantation were when the police could use alarming force at the break of day to invade Ruel Reid's home; search the house after investigations had been completed; take him, his wife, and child into custody as if they were escaping felons — with no respect for the rights and dignity of the individual and the presumption of innocence — while we stand aside and look (think Bob Marley's Redemption Song). This was the situation on October 9, when the Reid family, Professor Pinnock, and Councillor Lawrence-Brown were arrested by the police. And, when the only comment from the Opposition political party was the acclaim, “an important step in Jamaica's effort to clean up corruption”, that position encapsulates in miniature the characteristics of all aspects of the plantation, denying individual human rights and dignity before conviction. That was when Delroy Chuck spoke, bringing down a flood of criticism on himself.

Finally, I wish to point out subsection (6) (c) of section 16 of the Charter of Rights that provides:

“Every person charged with a criminal offence shall:

(c) be entitled to defend himself in person or through the legal representative of his own choosing, or if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal representation, to be given such assistance as is required in the interest of justice.”

I do not think that either Chuck or his daughter went out touting for Reid as a client. And I do believe that whatever counsel is retained for the defence of Reid, or any other person charged with a criminal offence, he or she will use “frantic legal efforts” to keep the accused out of jail as mentioned in one of the jottings.

Frank Phipps is a Queen's Counsel in Jamaica who continues his service to the field of law. Send comments to the Observer or to

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