EDITORIAL: Actions speak louder than words
The recent High Court case in which damages of $50 000 were awarded against the Government for the wrongful arrest and imprisonment of a Barbadian citizen while he was on holiday in this island, raises some very serious issues for consideration of the minister with responsibility for the Court Process Office.
The report makes for some very disturbing reading. On the morning of the arrest marshals of the Court Process Office went to a house in Brighton where they knocked on the door and satisfied themselves the man they had been looking for lived at said address.
The Barbadian visitor confirmed he had the same forename, the same middle initial and the same surname as the miscreant for whom they had been searching, and quite naturally they thought they had at last found a man who had apparently eluded their capture for some time.
They were wrong!
According to the unchallenged affidavit evidence of the plaintiff, the back door of his house was broken down, he was arrested and handcuffed behind his back, put into the vehicle being used by the marshals and taken to the temporary prison at Harrison’s Point in the T-shirt and boxers he was wearing, and spent some eight hours falsely imprisoned before he was released.
This release was secured through a phone call which was made by the prison authorities to his sister who worked in a law firm. To add insult to injury, she had to pay $803.94 which was the remainder of the fine owed to the court by the victim’s namesake.
Now, court marshals have one of the most difficult jobs in the justice system. They work demanding hours, and are often attacked by those whom they seek to arrest in pursuance of the order of the courts.
But the evidence in this recent case demonstrates the need for officers such as marshals who exercise the coercive powers of the state to have a greater appreciation for the consequences of their actions; for they may get it wrong as they did on this occasion.
Such an increased appreciation would have driven them to allow the victim of their error to demonstrate that he was not the man they sought, and that he was indeed a Barbadian citizen on holiday, bearing a name eerily similar to the lawbreaker. That was perhaps their first error.
But the affidavit evidence before the court disclosed that the victim was assaulted, dragged by the handcuffs through the corridor and out into the yard, while he was receiving a couple of punches in the process.
At one point he alleges that handcuffed as he was, he was charged at by the marshal who hurt his foot while kicking in the back door, but fortunately he was restrained by other marshals. This is not acceptable behaviour.
We trust that this incident was an aberration from the high standards of professional behaviour which is expected from law enforcement officers; but the power to arrest and detain and deliver a person to prison is such an awesome power that the greatest care must be taken by officials exercising that power not to infringe the fundamental rights of others.
In hindsight acceptance of the victim’s offer that his passport be examined or that he be allowed a phone call by the marshals, might have spared this law-abiding citizen unnecessary trauma and anxiety, and the indignity of being thrown into prison. Such hindsight must become the foresight of the future.
Lofty and high-sounding words written into our laws will do little to protect our rights, if public officials are not trained in the due appreciation of such rights as they carry out their duties. Very often, what matters more than rules is the manner in which the rules are administered, for actions often speak louder than words!