The word reaching our newsroom early yesterday was that the town hall meeting scheduled for this evening at the Multipurpose Cultural Centre was slowly becoming a farce. Apparently, the organisers of the historic debate/discussion on the pros and cons of the embrace of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as our apex court, pulled a fast one on John Q Public and Jane B Ordinary. Yes, we can already see the raised eyebrows and hear the cynical snickers: what else is new!
Here’s what happened, as far as we can ascertain. The learned and esteemed President of the CCJ, Justice Adrian Saunders, was supposed to be a part of the panel highlighting the merits of Antigua and Barbuda acceding to that court on Referendum Day, November 6, 2018. Sitting alongside, and in support of the good justice, was supposed to be the prime minister of Dominica, MP Roosevelt Skerrit. On the side of the so-called nay-sayers (pro-Privy Council) was supposed to be two ordinary citizens who were to speak on the strong concerns about collusion between the executive and the judiciary as well as the high level of distrust for the dispensation of justice and the dreadful state of our lower courts, among other things. For example, based on some of their earlier presentations, they were going to also decry the excruciatingly slow pace at which the wheels of justice seem to turn here in our fair state. The presenters for the nay-sayers were supposed to be Pearl Quinn-Williams and Elijah James. Needless to say, it promised to be a rather fascinating and enlightening evening, never mind that the appearance of the president of the Court as an advocate for the body that he heads, smacked of a blatant conflict of interest and egregious self-concern. Again, many Antiguans and Barbudans, especially those with a
burden on their hearts for good governance and the eschewing of double-dealing and self-interest, raised a hue and cry. “No fair!” they declared.
Nonetheless, many were willing to hold their noses and attend the Perry Bay confab. Seemed, the foul smell so common in that area on hot humid nights was not only from the putrid waters of the St. John’s market harbour. Nay, that fishy smell was from the machinations of politics and jurisprudence that was supposed to be cooked up at the Multi-Purpose Centre, and it was stinking up to high heaven!
Then, as if that was not enough, and to add insult to injury most foul, the good folk who organised the Multi-Purpose Centre Public Awareness Campaign pulled a sketchy judicial sleight of hand by yanking Elijah James from the pro-Privy Council side (the so-called nay-sayers) and adding the good attorney general for the fair state of Antigua and Barbuda, MP Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin to the pro-CCJ side. Good grief! Talk about stacking the deck! Talk about putting a legal thumb on the scales of justice. Needless to say, Lady Justice wept! Even those in support of the CCJ were aghast at this apparent disrobing of our fair lady. It was an assault on our sense of fair play. Yes, many Antiguans and Barbudans were outraged at the tone-deaf removal of Lady Justice’s blindfold and forcing her to wink, wink, wink at the pro-CCJ panel of er, . . . legal heavyweights (no pun intended). To many people, what was about to happen at the Multi-Purpose Centre was a metaphor for the uneven and one-sided delivery of justice in our fair (sarcastic pun intended) Antigua and Barbuda. What was about to take place at Perry Bay was symptomatic of all that is wrong with the application of so-called justice in our lower courts and emblematic of the ghastly experiences that many have had with our judicial system. For many, it was a harbinger of how justice will be meted out under the CCJ! Think the judicial and political Goliaths against the ordinary Davids!
And then the discussion of justice was turned on its head again when, at the very last minute, word came to our newsroom that the good folk organising the Perry Bay Public Awareness Campaign were now rethinking the list and the role of the panelists. Apparently, a young attorney, one Jarid Hewlett, would join the pro-CCJ panel and go up against Pearl Quinn-Williams representing the opposing sentiment. The attorney general, the good MP Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin would also give a few remarks and then the floor would be opened to the guest of honour, the good Justice Adrian Saunders. A question-and-answer period would then follow. All well and good!
Nonetheless, there is no escaping the feeling that a naked attempt to subvert the discussion of justice was narrowly averted. And the conduct of the good folk organising the referendum Public Awareness Campaign is not inspiring confidence. Indeed, the original (albeit tentative) plan to have the prime minister of Dominica and our attorney general appear alongside the president of the CCJ to push for our embrace of that body, may have backfired and turned off many ordinary folk.
So, an event that held out so much promise for the shedding of light, and an honest and robust airing of the facts on both sides of
the divide, may now be viewed with much suspicion and distrust (there’s that pesky word again) by many who will be in attendance at Perry Bay tonight. It is a travesty!
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