EDITORIAL - Seymour Panton, the media and justice

Published: Thursday | December 19, 2013 Comments 0

We confess our admiration for the intelligence of Justice Seymour Panton, the president of Jamaica's Court of Appeal, and we are grateful for the keen interest he displays in matters of the media, including the lectures on its perceived failings he delivers, not infrequently, from the Bench and sometimes from behind a lectern at a function of some civic organisation.

Justice Panton's most recent offering last week was at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Montego Bay East, when he accused the media of "encouraging criminality" by much of their reporting.

Among his specific claims were that they "promote" criminal suspects and encourage persons with prior knowledge of events to provide them with tips, even in circumstances, he implied, that might include breaches of the law and public order, yet don't inform the police of what is about to happen.

We suspect that it was only because of the limited time he had to speak - and perhaps the lateness of his invitation - that prevented Justice Panton from exercising his considerable intellect in support of his claim. What was said appears to have been subject to a fraction of the rigour that would be expected in one of his judgments, as he spoke about the context, roles, responsibilities of the functioning of the free press in a liberal democracy.

Had he the time, Justice Panton might have connected his current sentiments with another matter of interest to the media on which he pronounced at another Rotary Club function two and a half years ago. He was against changing the defamation law to place the burden of proof on the persons who claim to have been libelled, a proposed cap on awards for libel, and to end jury trials in defamation cases.

In the recently reformed defamation law, Justice Panton had his wish on the matter of burden of proof and was partially successful on the other point. He will, perhaps, address these issues at a later date, providing further and better particulars.

ANOTHER GRAVE MATTER

In the meantime, in the event that Justice Panton is not aware, there is a grave matter - other than crime, criminality and the personalities attendant thereto - on whose improvement the media would prefer to report, and to which we encourage him to address his mind.

We refer to Jamaica's creaking and slow justice system, with its backlog of nearly half million cases and in which, at least based on anecdotal evidence, Jamaicans are rapidly losing confidence.

The default position is that the justice system suffers from a shortage of resources. In other words, throw money at the problem.

While it is conceded that money is a problem, there is also a view that substantially greater efficiency can be squeezed out of the system by more competent management of their courtrooms, and ultimately their diaries, by judges. Tackling the seeming unending adjournment of cases and curtailment of the requirement for lawyers to be at diverse courts at the same time on the same day might be a start.

The holiday period is perhaps not the most opportune time for Justice Panton to wrap his mind around these issues, so he might wish, either from the Bench or at another Rotary function, to address these issues early in the new year. In the meantime, we wish Justice Panton a merry Christmas.

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.

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