Sat | Dec 4, 2021

Orville Taylor | Reid’s rites, read rights; but careful how you drop the SOPE

Published:Sunday | November 21, 2021 | 12:11 AM

Some 24 years ago, I was in firm disagreement with our erudite lawyer and then prime minister, that the law was not a shackle. Indeed, my affinity is with Lord Denning, who stated that it was an ass. Doubtless, it is stubborn and often unwieldy,...

Some 24 years ago, I was in firm disagreement with our erudite lawyer and then prime minister, that the law was not a shackle. Indeed, my affinity is with Lord Denning, who stated that it was an ass. Doubtless, it is stubborn and often unwieldy, but it must be mounted or laden properly and ridden or led to its proper destination.

Having spent years of hours dealing with matters relating to workers’ rights and being schooled both in the practice and academics of industrial relations, the need to stick like glue to the principles, rules and laws is sacrosanct. Many a litigator or negotiator learned the hard way either before the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) or in the various appeal courts, that an improper or illegal procedure always vitiates action, which otherwise might have been perfectly justified. Expedience is just a dumb an instructor or coach that anyone can have. We must always exercise rights rightly.

Thus, having paid close attention to this entire saga relating to incumbent principal of Jamaica College, and dismissed minister of education, Ruel Reid, let me caution the two labour parties in our Parliament, whose backbone and foundation is workers’ rights.

Although disciplinary matters related to public employees are outside of the remit of the IDT, it enforces a Labour Relations Code, which outlines binding and instructive principles. Reid is a public servant whose contract of employment is governed by the Education Act. Along with the Education Regulations it outlines elaborate procedures for the disciplining of teachers.

What is important is that the ultimate authority of appointment and dismissal of teachers/principals is the Teachers’ Services Commission. However, the direct employer of educators is the school board; never the minister of education. True, the boards are appointed by the minister; but she has no direct power to hire, discipline or fire. If any politician, including the prime minister, attempts to terminate any public employee, it is an unlawful act, even if convenient to do so. Importantly, data from about eight years ago indicated that 80 per cent of their disciplinary cases were overturned on appeal, due to improper procedures.

SHOW GUTS

The board, along with the Old Boys Association, should show some of their characteristic guts, consult and act in accordance with their authority and not behave as if they Fervet Opus in Cannabis.

All persons, who asked for the minister to dismiss Reid, are either ignorant or hypocritical, especially when some of the very critics are saying the Government must be faithful to the law in declaring the state of public emergency (SOPE). By the way, the police, who are most affected by its implementation, use the full acronym instead of SOE.

Speaking of which, this is not a mastery of debating contest among attorneys and academics. The declaration of a SOPE must be predicated on parameters outlined in the Jamaica Constitution and relevant laws. Depending on the size of the majority in the Houses of Parliament, bipartisan support is needed. However, certain conditionalities must be met before the SOPE should be declared.

One may argue that the preconditions have or have not been met. However, the discussion cannot be about politics, convenience or the desire of the Government. The question is simple. Do we have obvious or reasonable factors which amount to a public emergency? Doubtless, there has been an increase in homicides and the brazenness and icy cold posture of the criminals makes us shudder. It is also true that the killers seem to have no fear or regard for anyone; including, unfortunately, the SOPE itself. Nevertheless, the law allows for Parliament to declare that a SOPE exists, as long as the majority in the House believe so.

DEFEND THE RIGHT

We may not agree that a true emergency does exist, but I have to defend the right of the Government to legally declare it.

Yet, in doing so, it had better move past law and proffer scientific evidence that SOPEs work. Our lowest homicide totals in the last decade were 1,005 in 2014 and just over 1,100 in 2015. There were no SOPEs then but even so, many made fun of the then security minister as he called upon God. Truth be told, it was kind of funny because I didn’t know him to be a churchman.

The minuscule reductions in homicide over the various SOPEs are scarce evidence of their success. Real measurable success must be in the form of i) large numbers of firearms being recovered; ii) suspects being not only detained but charged; iii) increased clear-up rates for serious crimes, and of course, reduction in homicides below the 2014 levels. Soldiers can detain; but only police can gather evidence in the form and fashion to put away the crooks.

It is not rocket science, but the solution, even where there are SOPEs, must be police-based, with motivated cops lining up behind an independent commissioner, whom they completely believe is ‘police first’ and anything else afterwards.

Given the level of discontent among the rank and file, no matter how many times one drops the SOPEs the bottom line must be engaged policing.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.