Sat | Dec 3, 2016

A pox on lawyers!

Published:Tuesday | January 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Justin Felice may be gone but his legacy lives on.

Deputy Commissioner Glenmore Hinds came out swinging against lawyers and, according to The Gleaner ('Police official knocks lawyers for resisting POCA scrutiny', December 12, 2014), referred to the Bar Association's exercise of its constitutional right to file a lawsuit as "efforts to block more effective money-laundering legislation". Mr Hinds, addressing the third annual Anti-Money Laundering & Counter Financing of Terrorism Conference in Kingston, said:

"They are resisting being brought in, and it's to my certain knowledge that a significant sum of money that is laundered annually goes through the legal books Ö . They are resisting and cite lawyer-client privilege as the reason."

Resisting being brought in? Brought in where? How? Is the goodly policeman equating approaching the court on an important constitutional issue to resisting arrest? Since when is "lawyer-client privilege" a nuisance to be brushed aside in favour of lawyers being forced to do policemen's investigatory work? What's the value of a legal representative who instead represents the police against you?

In apparent anxiety to paint all lawyers as criminal confederates, Hinds unashamedly cranked out an old chestnut, namely, the alleged choice between individual rights and the survival of a country. He said: "It must be viewed in the wider context of trying to save a country and a country's reputation Ö . You can have all your rights, but if you don't have a country, those rights can't be secured."

RIGHTS AS OBSTACLES

Finally, the Jamaica Constabulary Force's view of its role in society is thoroughly exposed. Now we understand why police kill hundreds of Jamaicans annually without compunction. Jamaican police don't believe in individual rights. Certainly, where police perceive crime, they believe individual rights are obstacles to detection. Police opinion is that human rights and crime reduction can't coexist. We must choose one or the other.

Crap. A country is nothing more than a collection of individuals with individual rights. A country without individual rights isn't a country. It's a totalitarian state where police ride roughshod over citizens with impunity. It's a global outcast where arbitrariness trumps democracy and dissidents are imprisoned for their dissenting views.

Mr Hinds needs to tell Jamaicans which individual rights he's prepared to tolerate and which ones he believes should be abolished. If the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) rules are to be enforced by lawyers, rights to privacy or to be represented by counsel of your choice appear among those Hinds wants abolished.

But the unkindest cut of all was Hinds' surmise that lawyers were really concerned with "reduced profits" which explained, in his view, their resistance. Oh, dear. Reporting source of funds doesn't prevent a sale agreement from being enforced or a lawyer from earning his/her fee. But, if these destructive rules are applied to lawyers, policemen might actualise their recurring wet dream, namely, lawyers becoming extinct. Why would citizens tolerate blown undercover police as their representatives?

NO LAWYERS = NO JUDGES

Mr Hinds, lawyers are concerned with their professional reputation and responsibilities, especially in a country with a pernicious 'informa fi dead' culture. No lawyers = no judges. Judges can't try cases alone.

Where a country's supreme law (Constitution) entrenches separation of powers between executive and judiciary; where the judiciary's mandate is to expose and remedy abuse of state power, how does the judiciary, dependent on cogent argument from State and citizen, through an Independent Bar, to assist decision-making, perform where the distinction between citizens' lawyers and the State is blurred or erased? How then does a judiciary maintain its constitutionally mandated separation from the executive?

No bank, no insurer, no cambio has this sort of fundamental constitutional responsibility. Only the judicial system, which (whether Mr Hinds likes it or not) includes lawyers, is so constitutionally mandated. It appears Hinds fails to grasp the difference between a legal agent and a non-representative service provider.

Why leap to brand lawyers the source of all evil? It's conceivable money laundering unsuspectingly results from legal arrangements. Why stop there? Why not apply POCA rules to doctors? "My good man, you require complex surgery. It'll cost US$100,000+. Before operating, I need to know your source of funds. Fill out this form. Glenmore Hinds will visit, review and give the go-ahead for your surgery."

Why not supermarkets? Thanks to the plummeting dollar, many supermarket bills reach tens of thousands monthly. Maybe shopkeepers should enquire as to source of funds before permitting shoppers to leave with produce? Shouldn't I be filling out POCA forms at my architect's, building contractor's; children's preparatory schools; and, of course, the racetrack?

Peace and love.

n Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.