Gleaner right on chastening Panton, wrong on censorship
THE EDITOR, Madam:
I write in response to your editorial on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, titled ‘Justice Panton’s unfortunate remarks’.
I share your view (and that of Justice Panton, retired president of the Court of Appeal) that the time has long come for Jamaica to extricate itself from the Privy Council and to accede to the Caribbean Court of Justice as its court of last resort.
I also agree with you that People’s National Party (PNP) officials, as indeed any other Jamaican citizen, retain the constitutional right (even if far too many of our citizens lack the means) to utilise the allowable processes of the judicial system to pursue what they believe to be their right to justice.
The Privy Council still remains Jamaica’s final court. It is indeed unfortunate for the learned justice to characterise the decision by the PNP to take the matter, of whether evidence on oath should be given in open court or in secret, to the Privy Council in England, as “time-wasting nonsense”. Nor is it an abuse of process.
Where we part company is with your suggestion that Justice Panton should be “constrained” by a code of conduct for retired judges from expressing his personal views on legal and political matters. Sure, retired judges should be governed by a code of conduct, by certain practices and values of the court, and by restrictions imposed by law.
But what is far more troubling than Justice Panton’s “unfortunate remarks” is any attempt to shame the learned judge into silence or censor him in any way.
The Gleaner, which prides itself on being Jamaica’s foremost paragon of freedom of expression, should not allow itself to become, or be suspected of becoming, an advocate of censorship. It has the right, duty even, to disagree with Justice Panton, and to do so vigorously; but it has an even more sacred duty to defend his constitutional right to freely express himself as a citizen of Jamaica, a democracy.
To be clear, no code of conduct should constrain a retired judge from expressing support for a political party, participating in political activities or expressing his or her personal views on political or other issues.