Mon | Dec 5, 2016

The anarchists of St Ann

Published:Sunday | February 8, 2015 | 12:00 AM

No one, perhaps, ought to be shocked by last week's behaviour by the police personnel who boycotted the Resident Magistrate's courts in St Ann and the knee-jerk support they received from the Police Federation, their trade union.

Nor are they likely to be surprised by the tepid, enabling response by the High Command, the constabulary's top management group, about investigating and trauma counselling, but absent downright repudiation of the action, or any reminder of due process and/or established procedures.

While not in sympathy, the High Command's approach, its feeling of a need to assuage, we appreciate. For underlying its position is an acknowledgement of a weakness in discipline in the police force, its members' unacceptance of equitable application of the law, and the presumed privilege of their uniform.

Maybe, too, it should not be lost on us that St Ann is the parish, at a Brown's Town police station, where a young man was arrested for photographing a policeman, handcuffed to a rack, and ridiculed over the issue of bail.

Last week's strike - crudely couched as illness to avoid the loss of pay - was triggered by magistrate Andrea Thomas' decision to order a policewoman's detention for behaviour towards the Bench that the magistrate apparently deemed to be rude or insulting. The female officer was, for a short time, placed in a holding cell with male prisoners, where she was allegedly assaulted. The officer's colleagues are outraged by the whole affair and have complained to the chief justice, the national security minister, and a host of other officials about Ms Thomas.

 

NO STANDARD PROCEDURE

 

We take no position on the merit of the magistrate's decision, but for her power of action under Section 194 of the Judicature (Resident Magistrates) Act to have an offender "taken into custody and detain him until the rising of the court" and if she thinks it fit to fine the offender.

The law, however, does not specify how and where the detained person should be held. That is primarily an administrative action for the "constable, bailiff or officer of the court" who would have been responsible for giving effect to the order of the magistrate.

In the event, therefore, but for a specific directive from the magistrate, if there was such, it would have been the decision of the police officer on the spot who would have decided where and how his colleague was held - not Magistrate Thomas. Of course, it is not the norm for male and female detainees to be held in the same cell; and perhaps in the circumstances, the police officer in charge might have exercised his discretion and not place his 'offending' colleague in a formal detention area.

While these are considerations to which no one would be hostile, there can be no getting around the fundamental issue of equality under the law. Its application applies as much to law enforcement and judicial officers as to other citizens.

There are other, so far amorphous, claims against the magistrate for supposed lack of respect. Many observers disagree. But even assuming it was true, it remains highly unprofessional of police officers, who previously have made no complaints, to walk off their jobs and disrupt the process of justice. Of this, the police chief must take a very dim view. Mollycoddling the offenders doesn't help lest he encourage anarchy.