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EDITORIAL- Let the courts decide, Mr Golding

Published:Thursday | March 4, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Dorothy Lightbourne, the justice minister, should have accepted Bruce Golding's challenge immediately in his address to Parliament on Tuesday.

But it is not too late. She can still sign the order for the extradition of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke and simultaneously sign, as Mr Golding would demand, her resignation from the Government.

But perhaps Ms Lightbourne believes genuinely - as Mr Golding claims to do - that the method used by the United States to gain the evidence on which America relies for its extradition request is in conflict with Jamaican law and Mr Coke's constitutional rights and is, as its argument seems to suggest,
ultra vires
of the extradition treaty between Jamaica and the United States.

Mr Golding and his government, of course, must be aware that very few Jamaicans believe that the administration's embarrassing contortions over Mr Coke represent real positions of principle rather than political expedience.

A political price

Conventional wisdom is that they are stalling, and Mr Golding's declared willingness "to pay a political price" for his actions is because of who Mr Coke is: the reputed 'don' of West Kingston, Mr Golding's political constituency and the presumed street 'command and control' centre of the governing Jamaica Labour Party.

Mr Coke's influence, however, is said to extend beyond West Kingston and his base of Tivoli Gardens to other JLP political 'garrisons'. Ostensibly a businessman, the Americans branded him a "crime lord" who exported narcotics into their country and ran guns from the United States to Jamaica.

Mr Golding must now be told that the political price he pays in this matter is inconsequential to the potential danger in which he has placed Jamaica's interest. But our scepticism over his reasons for failing to extradite Mr Coke, notwithstanding, we are willing to give the prime minister, and Ms Lightbourne, the benefit of the doubt. Our suggestion, assuming that their posture rests on principle, is that they put the Government's legal proposition to the judicial test rather than merely having Ms Lightbourne proscribing the extradition process by refusing to sign the order.

Obviously, the argument raised by Mr Golding that wiretap evidence against Mr Coke was illegally obtained and would therefore be inadmissible in a Jamaica court would be available to the West Kingston 'boss' if the extradition order were signed and committal proceedings started before a magistrate. The Government, clearly, does not intend to go this route. It does, however, have other legal options to test its proposition.

Fatally flawed

It is not, for example, beyond the capacity of the Government, with its bevy of legal advisers, to apply to the Full Court, independent of the Coke case, for a declaration on the issue. This, in essence, would test whether evidence gathered in the manner, which the administration says it was against Coke, is in breach of the extradition treaty and would be so gravely prejudicial as to warrant any extradition process to flow therefrom fatally flawed.

Seeking judicial interpretation of domestic statute and international treaties or the interaction between the two is not uncommon. Moreover, the legal positions offered to Parliament by Mr Golding is, at best, based on advice rather then settled law.

In the final analysis, the interpretation of statute and the arbitration of contending legal positions rest with the courts, and not with an opinion drafted by either the attorney general or the solicitor general.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.