Tue | Dec 6, 2016

The Kay agenda

Published:Sunday | August 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Daniel Thwaites, Contributor

Perhaps the most shocking thing to emerge from the mess at Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) was the newspaper report that its membership was roughly three and a half dozen people, and that even so, there was a problem of non-involvement by some.

I had written previously of lobby groups containing the leader and three friends, but I thought I was being cheeky, not strictly accurate. Contrast that to the Church which, pun intended, can really move the masses.

If JFJ's not dead, it's on life support. So either bring out the heart paddles or reverse the hearse.

Riven by faction and an inability to get the story straight, indebted to obscure sources of funding, suffering tense relationships between the outgoing founders and the incoming regime, this is sounding like a typical Jamaican political party. In fact, it resembles nothing so much as the NDM, if the NDM had three dozen more people.

As everyone knows, the fit hit the shan after revelations that an unauthorised sex-education manual that critics felt was pushing the gay agenda was used in six private, but government-funded children's homes. Subsequent to multiple resignations, even the new hire, Kay Osborne, took to the press to say, essentially, "Good Lord! Had I known what was going on in here, I would have never set foot in this club!"

Further to that Kay agenda was the following really interesting statement about JFJ internal culture and tactics: "[A]ttempts to use persuasion, by establishing dialogue with key stakeholders with human-rights responsibilities ... were met with acute suspicion from a number of board members and, ultimately, proved futile." The alternative to 'persuasion' in JFJ-world is 'pressure', which involves "public naming, shaming and denouncing government agents".

Now I'm all in for "naming, shaming and denouncing" when appropriate. Who isn't? But if it is true that there is resistance to any other kind of lobbying work that doesn't immediately involve ripping out the innards of government agents, JFJ will see why many people concluded there was something sinister about it.

Even with that all of that said, JFJ has done far too much good work to slip beneath the waves of this mostly contrived controversy. It's time for them to get back to the meat and potatoes of demanding that police and soldiers don't 'murderise' citizens and neglect children and the mentally challenged.

CONFESSOR GOVERNMENT

Traditionally, a priest would take a confession and forgive the terrible sins of a prisoner before the State dispensed justice by gallows, gangplank, firing squad, or horses, depending on the preferred method of dealing with murderers. Nowadays, we lock them up forever while they pursue endless appeals at vast public cost, until their lawyers try to spring them free based on a technicality. This is called progress.

Mercy, which is distinct from justice, has become institutionalised. If you doubt this, Google Daniel Trimmingham v The Queen, Privy Council Appeal No 67 of 2007, and tell me how that guy didn't deserve the gallows.

Now, based on some newspaper reports, I gather Senator Malahoo Forte wants the State to expunge the records of certain murderers, providing they've served their sentences and shown evidence of rehabilitation.

I need to stress here that I'm going on newspaper reports, including one where others have come out in support of this idea. I say that because when it seems to me that intelligent people are proposing bizarre ideas, my first instinct is to believe that I don't have the full story and I'm missing some important element.

So with that proviso, I want to say that this strikes me as a bad idea. Except in the most extreme cases, I cannot imagine why we would want to suppress the records of a man who was charged with murder. We are talking MURDER here, not manslaughter, accidental killing, or "guilty wid explinayshan yer 'Hanna!" Murder is the foulest crime. Worse crimes, if there be any, are murder amplified by particularly noxious motives, or on a grand scale, such as genocide.

According to this logic, the terrible thing that murderers cannot endure is the stigma of their record. I really wish people would stop stigmatising stigma. Regarding murderers, the eventuality of a mere record is, all things considered, a rather benign outcome. I imagine it's the sort of thing that a murderer's employees, employers, co-workers and neighbours may want to know. It might at least alert them to danger if Daniel starts stalking around with a machete calling for his pet calf to know that in the past he dismembered John for untethering his goat.

Abandoning common sense

Of course, generally in a court of law, a past crime is no evidence of guilt, far less that a man may commit another in the future. But that just shows how courts of law depart from real life, and from common sense, not that we should abandon what little common sense we have left.

Do I need to add that expunging records is hardly a priority where a mere fraction of murders are ever even brought to court? Or how the justice system puts the families of murder victims through another few years of victimisation and torture? I know I wouldn't take kindly to the state that in the first instance failed to protect a loved one now taking it upon itself to abolish the record of their murder.

As countless others have pointed out, criminal justice is not an accountant's ledger with a crime on one side and prison time on the other. When we hear that someone has 'paid their debt to society', that is metaphorical. They have simply been punished. The evil committed will last long into the future with broken hearts and broken families, and the records of those few convictions we manage to secure should linger around as well.

Justice is distinct from forgiveness. And while the State dispenses the one, it cannot dispense the other. That is the preserve of victims and their families.

Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.