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OFF CENTRE: Who’s minding our (mass) rights?


Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: Who’s minding our (mass) rights?

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The Shanique Myrie case.
Quite properly, I will not comment on it. It is sub judice (“under judicial consideration and therefore prohibited from public discussion elsewhere”, one of my dictionaries says in definition).
But the whole thing set me thinking about the means that are available to us to get determinative judgments that have implications for the rights of significant numbers of people in our own country.
It seems that mostly we hope the state will act with a strong rights focus.
And, in truth, the state has put in place laws and enforcement and regulatory entities and processes to deal with many things.
But what of areas where the executive branch is unmindful or blind or moving with all the speed of a dead slug? What then?
Take the matter of confession statements. Why is it that of all the people in the world, Barbadians seem to be the most eager to confess? Barbadians in droves can’t seem to wait to tell the police, “I did it.” Seems reasonable?
That situation apparently finally got on the nerves of the authorities and some years ago they promised that interrogations would be audiotaped and videotaped. Nothing yet. So, the confessions are still coming in fast – often followed by stout denials.
Is there any way in our system to get court-induced, broadly binding rulings about rights, rulings that enshrine what must be practised?
Where in our democracy are the societally binding judgments on the scale (if not in the nature) of, say, Miranda vs Arizona, Roe vs Wade, Brown vs The Board Of Education, Browder vs Gayle, Powell vs State Of Georgia, Lawrence vs Texas?
Is the problem our court system? Are our courts critically involved in determinations that tie the state or entities or individuals to certain ways of dealing with the populace as a whole? What legal frameworks do we have to mould large-scale practice and not just give a judgment on the case at hand?
Is it only the Privy Council (in times past) – for example, with respect to how long you can keep somebody on death row without executing them – or the Caribbean Court of Justice that can be so determinative? And if so, why aren’t there more knocks on that door?
Or is it that we as a people have not been zealous enough about our rights to seek definitive standards? All the same, we were often told that the late Right Excellent Errol Barrow said that if we are poor we should keep out of the courts. Most of us are too poor to spend money in that way – so we are poor, peaceful and polite, even about what should be our rights. Therefore, when Government loophole or laxity gives others an inch and they take an el, five poor people simply call Brass Tacks.
So what about our lawyers? They, many of whom the taxpayers have schooled, of necessity aren’t taking on the late Prime Minister. Should they not have such a noble bent, such a social conscience, such a commitment to giving back that they are relentlessly fighting not just to get a man off a wounding charge or a drug charge or a rape charge, but also to make sure that the state or fellow citizens don’t charge at a whole set of individuals in the wrong way?
Why don’t they get to the business of seeking out and fighting test cases that have wide-ranging rights implications?
Where in our legal fraternity is the equivalent of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)?
I don’t know if we have ambulance (insurance) chasers here, though I have heard about libel chasers. But what about rights chasers, going after things that deprive large numbers of people of what they should be entitled to?
Or is the problem that the media and the legal fraternity have been remiss in not regularly and insistently trumpeting landmark rulings?
Nowadays, it seems that the conversation constants for large numbers of presumably socially focused Barbadians are two: politics, economics. Shouldn’t there be a constant national “conversation” about large-scale rights and their pursuit?
Shouldn’t we have an unyielding passion for determinative frameworks that unceasingly and definitively circumscribe, and promulgate the circumscription of, our relationship with myriad “neighbours” and that of our “lords and masters” with the ordinary citizen in matters that a civilized, democratic society had better attend to?
For instance, arising out of the I’Akobi Maloney case, is there anything categorical, determinative that we can hold the authorities to in the future? What, other than Government goodwill, would it take for that to happen?
What am I missing?
I am neither igrant nor ignernt, but in this matter I may be quite ignorant. Inform me.
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.

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