Chief justice warns against abuse of judges

Chief justice warns against abuse of judges

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

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CHIEF Justice Bryan Sykes has cautioned against the abuse of judges via social media and other platforms, calling such activities a grave threat to judicial independence which sets the stage for democracy to be undermined.

He issued the warning in a statement yesterday against the background of a Supreme Court ruling on Friday, which determined that Kensington Primary School did not, with its “no braids, no beads, no locks” policy, breach the constitutional rights of then five-year-old daughter of Dale and Sherine Virgo in 2018. The child was barred from attending school in 2018 after she was accepted to start, and the parents told to cut her hair.

The ruling, which was also highlighted in the international press, has sparked public outrage across social media since the weekend, reigniting conversations around racism and colourism in Jamaica. The written judement, which came on Monday, has seemingly failed to quell the heated opinions on the case and the ruling.

“The abuse of judges by way of social media and other platforms is to be deplored. This practice is to be condemned. Members of the public should appreciate that our system of litigation is one in which there are two or more parties, and they may not all be of the same view. In those circumstances judges will have to decide which party is successful. It necessarily means that some parties will be unsuccessful. There will be cases of high public interest and views may be strongly held. Judges cannot decide cases on the basis of their personal views,” Justice Sykes said.

He stressed that the publication of pictures of judges, in context where violence is being suggested, is unacceptable.

“The judiciary of Jamaica accepts and welcomes criticisms. That is necessary in any healthy democracy. However, the criticisms should be informed by a knowledge of all the relevant facts. What is unacceptable is abuse and threats being issued against judges who are doing their duties by upholding the Constitution of Jamaica,” he said.

The chief justice said, too, that criticism should not get to the point where it is suggested or implied that judges have put aside the law “both procedurally and sometimes substantially” such that “matters are determined other ways”. He said all judges of the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court, and the parish court have undertaken to discharge their functions according to the constitution and laws of Jamaica, an obligation that all judges take seriously.

“The judiciary does not know of any case in which any judge at any level decided cases in the past or present without any reliance on the law, evidence, and submissions made to the judge. Judges have been and are committed to deciding cases without fear, favour, malice or ill will, based on the law, evidence, and submissions presented before the court and not opinion, regardless of the eminence of the person from whom that opinion comes,” he said.

Justice Sykes also called attention to the role of traditional media, and reminded practitioners to be guided by the code of ethics for journalists and to fact-check information for truthfulness and accuracy. “Responsible journalism is one of the hallmarks of a truly democratic society; media protocol from the judiciary will be launched soon, and it will detail how and from whom information may be obtained from the judiciary,” he said.

The legal fraternity has also condemned recent social media posts and statements calling for violence against the judges that decided the constitutional claim in the Supreme Court.

Shortly before the written judgement in the Kensington Primary case on Monday, the Jamaican Bar Association, the Southern Bar Association, the Northern Jamaica Law Society, the Cornwall Bar Association and the Advocates Association of Jamaica said that while public interest in decisions and rulings of a court are to be encouraged in a democratic society this should be within the bounds of the law “and on an informed and rational basis”.

The associations said disagreeing with the outcome of a case should never result in personal attacks and threats of violence against any member of the judiciary. “Such calls are dangerous and should also be immediately and swiftly condemned by all right-thinking members of society,” the attorneys cautioned.

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