The emerging 'James Forbes' consequence
By Garth A. Rattray
In the case involving Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) James Forbes, the magistrate found the SSP guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice. However, it is emerging that as a direct consequence of the ruling, there is unease throughout the constabulary regarding the ability of senior police officers (in spite of their vested authority) to exercise, or to even encourage, initiative, good sense and/or discretion in certain matters.
Back in 1991, I had a mortgage with the Victoria Mutual Building Society branch on Duke Street. The due date for my payment had arrived and I was unable to make the trip downtown, so I asked my brother to do so on my behalf.
On arrival, he paused to allow a driver to exit so that he could occupy the only vacant parking space. An overenthusiastic constable literally ran out and cited him for parking illegally. He pointed to the exiting car and tried to explain that he was not parked, but only waiting on the clearly visible exiting car. The cop issued the ticket nonetheless. That would necessitate my brother contesting that obviously unfair ticket with days of lost income and unnecessarily burdening the congested court system. So, I called a policeman friend who got the charge dropped. It was a matter of common sense/ discretion ... but, in the strictest legal sense, some would argue that all concerned perverted the course of justice.
Trying to help out
Several years ago, I was selling a motor car. Someone wanted it badly, but he was short of cash. He pleaded with me to allow him to pay down on the car, sell his and drive mine for about two weeks while he earned the difference. I foolishly agreed, had him sign to it, and permitted him to use the car for a short while.
The fellow used the car to transport ganja while driving a well-known politician. The driver took the rap, but my car was impounded. It was 'forfeited' because it was used to transport weed.
I knew nothing of the perpetrator's nefarious plans, and he and his wife lied to me when I called his home after his arrest. They swore that the car was safe in their garage. I was totally unaware of what he did and was innocent of any complicity, so I tried to get back the car through the courts, but the magistrate would have none of it.
The driver was convicted and my car was lost to me. However, on the advice of a very dear friend, I cried 'Wolfe', and wrote to then Chief Justice Lensley Wolfe to appeal for the release of the car.
Chief Justice Wolfe replied and explained that any conveyance, dwelling or anything used in the act of dealing in illegal drugs should be forfeited (whether or not the owner knows of the crime - it is 'just so to do'). Although Chief Justice Wolfe never knew me or knew anyone connected with me, he instructed that my car be released to me upon completion of the case. Was the course of justice perverted by the chief justice, or did his magnanimous discretion prevail?
Is Thomas culpable?
Which begs the question: SSP Forbes stated that retired Commissioner of Police Lucius Thomas initiated the high-level intervention by seeking his assistance. Is Mr Thomas also culpable? When is intervention 'discretion' and when is it 'perverting justice'? I wonder who draws the line, and where.
Now, senior police personnel feel tethered and are very wary about advising/instructing/ assisting in matters regarding the use of common sense, good policing and discretion when charging someone. They may send every single little matter through the already overburdened court system. Not all acts of common sense and/or discretion are illegal or have ulterior motives.
SSP Forbes is an extremely decent human being and a good police officer. He paid a high price for trying to help out.