It was the slogan oft-repeated to punctuate many of the powerful points in her discourse – “TRUST IS A MUST!” Of course, we are referring to the clear, spirited and dynamic presentation by a concerned Antiguan named Pearl Quinn Williams, an ordinary citizen who was echoing the sentiments of Jane B. Everywoman and John Q. Public. It was an appearance on OBSERVERRadio’s Voice of the People, and Quinn Williams was making the case for Antiguans and Barbudans to reject the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and continue our embrace of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as our apex court.
To say that she acquitted herself well is putting it mildly. Her arguments, some anecdotal, spoke to a serious lack of trust and confidence in the integrity, independence and even-handedness of our lower courts and the political establishment. She used hard-hitting expressions like, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” and said that the noble ideal that “Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done” is a pipe dream far removed from the reality of Jane and John, the ordinary men and women in the streets. And yes, she also said that ‘perception is reality’ and our reality is that there is rampant corruption in the halls of justice and the corridors of power. And the scales of justice are tipped in favour of the powerful and the connected and those who play political party ‘footsie.’ And woe betide those who fall afoul of the ruling elite!
Our perception and our reality is that the courts have allowed themselves to become pawns and political footballs for the political establishment. Our perception and our reality is that the process is rife with collusion! Our perception and our reality is that behind her blindfold, Lady Justice in the Caribbean weeps . . . never mind that, at times, she appears to bat her eyes and wink, wink at officialdom. Her legendary black robes, which are supposed to be a symbol of transparency seem to be sullied with dastardly instances of murky and perverted justice. And yes, Quinn Williams cited the case of Gisele Isaac as an instance of justice being turned into a political pappy show. And yes, she spoke, in not so many words, that in that case, as in so many cases, that “Justice has been delayed, for well, spurious reasons best known to Lady Justice herself (wink, wink), and therefore (in the eyes of John and Jane Public) effectively been denied!” For shame! It is a travesty! Lady Justice turned on her sainted head!
Consider. Quinn Williams cited the case of Winston Derrick of Observer Radio and Elloy DeFreitas, past permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, as instances of cases that went all the way to the Privy Council, and were won, after, well . . . how can we put it kindly, heck, let’s pull no punches, twisted and perverted rulings by our lower courts. She further pointed to the “Son of the soil’ feting of a learned justice in the region by the good prime minister of another Caricom member country when that justice was promoted. Good grief! And not to mention the party thrown for another learned justice upon his retirement by another good prime minister. Talk about not shunning the very appearance of impropriety! The thing is that, even if the brazen prime ministers did not have the good sense and discernment to see that partying with a limb of the law would be, at the very least, in poor taste and would raise more than a few eyebrows, the learned justices should have exercised better judgment and said, “Thanks, but no thanks!” Sigh! Seems, for the learned justices, a rejection of the conflicts of interest invites was not an amicus curiae (and the good justices need amicus curiae – “friends of the court!”)
And she was not done with her stunning indictment of the fraternising of Lady Justice with Claudius, Caesar, Nero, Caligula and others of like ilk. Nay, she cited the case of the retired chief justice of the CCJ, who is related to the attorney general of St. Kitts, and she went further to state that the political establishment and the judiciary are not only kith and kin, but they all went to the same schools and are part of the good ‘old boys clubs’ – the same lodges, civic organisations, churches, gyms, and, yes, she said it ‘rum shops!’ Help us Lord!
Clearly, there is much work to be done yet when it comes to accountability, transparency and integrity. Indeed, Quinn Williams lamented the fact that we are a society shockingly accepting of a “culture of corruption,” and she noted that, notwithstanding the numerous and varied cases where there was an egregious miscarriage of justice and malfeasance and misconduct on the part of honourable politicians and learned lawyers, “You can count on the fingers of one hand, with a few fingers left over” those who have been punished and made to answer for their misdeeds here in the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, what is so sad, as an insightful caller to the aforementioned radio programme pointed out, is that the CCJ is a noble and worthy ideal; it really represents another step in the severing of the so-called “Mother Country” (We hate that term) umbilical cord and full and true independence. Unfortunately, while we look to the day when we will be masters of our own destiny and jurisprudence, our current experience and reality is one that suggests that the levers of power here in the Caribbean cannot be trusted. It is a damning indictment! And as she emphatically concluded, TRUST IS A MUST! Until then, seems it might still be “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez! . . . God save the Queen and this honourable court! Sigh!