Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Corporal punishment in a ‘sentence’ courthouse

Published:Sunday | February 8, 2015 | 12:00 AM
There have been calls for Chief Justice Zaila McCalla to intervene in the contempt-of-court case which saw a policewoman in the dock with prisoners.

 

Inasmuch as the male prisoner in the dock might have had a different opinion and response to the question, I am absolutely certain that the female corporal of police last week would say, "Very bad and humiliated," when asked the question, how does she feel now?

It must have been a horrific experience: a female, without her customary firearm or pepper spray, exposed to the highest level of vulnerability. Despite a lame attempt by an attorney to downplay the risk because of the very short time she was in proximity of a detainee of the opposite sex, a few seconds is a hell of a long time for someone to be groped, struck or killed by a criminal. Indeed, rape can be committed in less than two minutes.

The idea of any policewoman being exposed to suspected criminals is scary, because many of these accused, who get an 'F' on their report cards, have the fantasy of sexually violating a female police officer on their bucket lists. In this matter, the cop was reportedly fondled by a suspected reprobate, after she was placed in the detention area upon the instructions of the magistrate. Understandably, she was traumatised and, by accounts from her colleagues, she is being given psychological treatment.

In Brown's Town, St Ann, an apparently annoyed resident magistrate cited the policewoman for contempt of court and ordered that she be confined. On what basis did the judge find her to be in contempt? Of course, that is always a judgement call, but it has to do with whether the individual disobeyed accepted standards and procedures within the court, or a direct order or instruction of the magistrate.

Until a full report is made public, one can only speculate on the exchange between the corporal and the magistrate. However, officers of the court know the limits of their conduct, rights and responsibilities, and must know how far they can push the envelope. All persons before the court are subject to accepted codes of behaviour and police are civilians. There is a common misconception, because of their powers of arrest and hierarchy, that police are something different.

In fact, they are really no different than labour officers or public health inspectors, who are a particular set of public servants, with specialised powers. Unlike military personnel, whose responsibility for their behaviour is mitigated by the protection of following direct orders, police personnel are totally accountable for anything that they do in the execution of their duties. This includes whether they are conducting investigations, operations or testimony in court. If the policewoman 'dissed the programme', 'Haranna' had every right in law to sanction her and deprive her of her liberty, within ambit of her mandate.

Nonetheless, magistrates are also guided by clear procedural rules, and in determining that a person before the court is in contempt, the personal like or dislike of that individual is no more instructive than the 'facetiness' of an arrested person who ends up in custody for a spliff or traffic violation. Yet, inasmuch as I understand that a judge must have the power to immediately order a disruptive witness, attorney or policeman removed or sanctioned, for the smooth running of the proceedings, there is something fundamentally wrong in natural justice with the idea that the person who becomes irritated by one's behaviour can be the same judge and executioner.

 

UNCALLED-FOR COMMENTS

 

On radio, a female corporal, representing the Jamaica Police Federation, suggested that the judge made a derisive evaluation of her colleague's abilities and her incapacity to even perform household work. It is unknown if the magistrate was taught human-resource management or job analysis in law school, but even if she was, such judgements are outside her remit as a magistrate, even if she has had myriad experiences with this individual officer over the years. Such comments in court would not only cross the line, but could take her into the end zone for a touchdown.

Still, if the corporal and her colleagues in the Police Federation feel that the magistrate went too far, or erred in procedure or judgement, they have recourse in law.

Most disturbing is that the corporal was not only ordered confined but, apparently, the officers enforcing the instructions were guided to put her in the same place where male detainees were. It is difficult to believe that the judge micromanaged the detention and told the cops in court where and how to place her.

If this is so, she would have also overstepped her boundary, because, as far as I know, judges can only recommend where and how prisoners are to be kept. Ultimately, such matters are the purview of the police, in the case of persons not yet convicted or in transit, or the correctional services, in the case of convicts.

In solidarity with their sister, the St Ann police have taken some form of protest action and withdrawn their labour. As inconvenient as it might be for some attorneys who side with the judge or who have to reschedule their court attendance, it must be made clear to all that in this country, there is still a freedom to 'strike' in furtherance of an industrial dispute.

True, essential services do not have such freedom unless the matter is reported to the labour ministry and ignored under Section 9(3) of the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act, but our democracy was built on the freedom of all workers to do.

Nevertheless, there is something very strange here. Doesn't the constabulary have clear guidelines as to how prisoners are to be kept? Police protocols lucidly state that female and male prisoners must never be kept together, even for a fleeting moment. If anyone, including a judge, tells a policeman to breach lawful guidelines, the cop must resist and do what is right or be liable for his misconduct.

As offensive as the judge might have been, she didn't physically place the officer in custody.

n Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline