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Of legislative changes and role of judges

Published:Saturday | February 20, 2010 | 12:00 AM


THE REACTION to the criticism by National Security Minister Dwight Nelson of a judge's decision to grant bail to three suspected kidnappers underlines one of the reasons precluding Jamaica from making any progress - too many elites, too well educated to be sensible enough to diagnose the nation's problems and solve them with decisive action.

Let's be clear: Nelson stepped way over the line in calling for the attorney general to have a word with the chief justice about his perception of too-lenient bail decisions. That's a no-no, and it's difficult to understand how any Cabinet minister would not know that.

Having said that, there is nothing wrong with anyone, even a member of the executive, criticising a judge's decision, contrary to what some of our legal luminaries would have us believe. Only last month, with the United States Supreme Court justices sitting metres away, US President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address, lambasted the justices for their decision which alters decades of settled law on corporate donations to candidates and now allows foreign corporations to influence US elections.

The judiciary's role

The criticism of Nelson reaches its nadir when the Manchester Bar Association asserts in a letter to the Editor that "It is not, and never should be, the role of the judiciary to fight crime but rather to fairly and impartially apply the law of the country in a just manner."

Your readers should see this blatant case of special pleading for what it is. The granting of bail is not simply a matter of law; there is a wide area for the exercise of good judgment, discretion and common sense. The role of the courts is not simply to be a spectator at a football match; there is also a role as protectors of society, the weak and the vulnerable. Any judge who, in exercising discretion to grant bail, fails to take into consideration the scourge of crime and violence which has destroyed Jamaica, is remiss in the exercise of his/her duty. And what is the purpose of the long-accepted deterrent component of sentencing if not to 'fight crime'?

It is time Jamaicans rise up and reject the fossilised, outdated and wrong-headed theories of so many of our educated elites and human-rights mouthpieces and look to what is happening in the wider world. There, older and more mature 'free and democratic' societies are updating their laws and practices to meet the exigencies of the times.

I am, etc.,

Errol W.A. Townshend