Orville Taylor | Bills, bills, and just 'a bills'
Lawyers and judges do not make law. At best, they interpret statutes that are enacted by the persons in the legislature whom we have elected. Therefore, if the law is an ass; the lawyers and courts are merely farmers, although much of their animal husbandry is a lot of bull.
How dumb can a legally trained mind be to be outraged by the $100 fine which Her Majesty’s court imposed on reputed leader of the Clansman Gang, Tesha Miller?
A man who either has a better ‘sciance’ man than a popular politician and the police, or is simply innocent, Miller has proven to be a sort of ‘Teflon Don', beating cases and charges as if they were the current West Indies cricket team. Eluding the police with the skill of a fox, he apparently, with an unknown identity, slipped out of the country and ended up with our CARICOM neighbours up north. Perhaps their national tourism tag line, ‘It’s better in the Bahamas', is true, but he was apprehended on an immigration breach and shuttled back to Jamaica into the waiting arms of the police.
Finally found, this man, who the police believe is directly or indirectly connected with the spike in the homicide rate in Spanish Town and its environs, was questioned and surprisingly, they couldn’t even pin a graduation rosette on him. This is a democracy and a society where there is a working justice system. Despite the ‘knowledge’ and assurance that the police have that Miller is a criminal and gang boss, there is no evidence, within the definition of the statutes and common law, which amounts to anything which an anxious director of public Prosecutions (DPP) can use to mount a case against. So, notwithstanding the belief that he is involved in ‘bare tings’, it was simply not Miller time.
However, he was slapped with an immigration charge and the evidence against him was imposing. Therefore, upon the advice of his learned counsel, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to the equivalent of just over what I was paid weekly in my first job, fresh out of high school: a $100 bill, affectionately called a ‘bills' in street parlance, worth less than US 78 cents.
I cannot imagine that he flew out under his own name, because if he did, I would be embarrassed for the agents of law enforcement to have lost sight of him and let him pass through their net.
Whatever the evidence was, he was convicted of making a false declaration to Jamaican immigration officials. I suspect that the relevant section of Immigration Restriction (Commonwealth Citizens) Act of 1945 is S. 9 (4), which says, “Any passenger intending to enter the island who knowingly and wilfully supplies any fake information … in answer to any question put to him by an immigration officer … shall be guilty of an offence and be liable, on summary conviction before a resident magistrate, to a fine not exceeding one hundred dollars.”
Doubtless, I feel the frustration of the police who felt that they had the top man in their grasp. And, of course, as the judge reportedly observed, a great deal of effort was expended in apprehending and bringing him to trial. However, there is something particularly noisome about a judge stepping outside of her lane and commenting on matters outside of her terms of reference. “The fact that you have an offence of this nature ... you put the [computer] systems in place, you put the people [police and immigration personnel] in place, and this is it.” To her indignation, “the paper [the indictment outlining the charges] costs more money than the sentence."
Pardon me, but how major an offence is lying to an immigration officer? Or rather, how serious an offence was it in 1945? Or in 1988 when the act was last amended? If an individual is asked whether he worked while abroad or if he lives at the same address in Jamaica, and lied, is this supposed to be a felony? And imagine a first-time traveller trying to impress the young lady who sat beside him on the plane, and tells the officer that he ‘travel regular’ and visited ‘tree country’ in the last six weeks? Her Honour should not only have been blind as justice is supposed to be about the effort of the police and the reputation of Miller, but she ought to have taken the blindness to her vocals, too.
Yes, it was a minor offence; a peccadillo, but that is the depth of the evidence. And may I ask any officer of the court if a $500 fine for a seat belt violation is not worth the effort of the policeman who knew for certain that the motorist had it unbuckled, yet, in refusing to admit his guilt, takes the matter to court. Is this a waste of time? It deeply bothers me that it can be inferred that the judge wished to see a major fine for a minuscule offence, maybe because of the stature or reputation of the accused. Judges must not be ‘starstruck’ by the defendants before them.
However, in the midst of the cacophony, her recommendation to engage parliamentarians and force them to pass useful, modern and just laws is a good one, although it is not the place of a sitting judge to make such pronouncements. These are serious times. If a Romanian can come to Jamaica and scam multiple individuals and institutions, and our African brothers can seamlessly blend in under fake identities, and the occasional Haitian can quickly pass for Jamaican, imagine a European or Middle Eastern supporter of ISIS slipping in here with a passport from any of the European Union countries or England? You know that this is a country where we are still ‘frighten fi colour’ and this is one place that I know where light skin equates to less scrutiny.
So, yes, Parliament is sleeping and needs to quickly revamp our laws in the face of international terrorism. However, if Miller is guilty of other offences; then let the willing citizens with evidence assist the police in procuring it.
- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.