The English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, once uttered the famous and insightful statement that “publicity is the soul of justice.” Was he right? When Bentham made that statement, he was essentially directing his remarks to the role of the legal philosopher in seeking to improve the law through vigorous and constructive criticisms. As a supporter of legal positivism, his motto was to “obey [the law] punctually, but censor freely.” It has been stated that Bentham was no mute admirer of the English common law. He was quick to recognise its many weaknesses and injustices. I have often contended in my lectures and writings that Bentham’s idea of what he called “censorial jurisprudence” came the closest to natural law thinking than any legal positivist I have ever come across. Bentham’s proposition finds support in Lord Denning’s often quoted words that “fair comment cannot prejudice a fair trial.” One law lord has, also, made the point that, in effect, it is an important role of the legal academic to ‘discipline’ the judiciary through his or her writings.
The fundamental significance of publicity to good governance, truth and life is not a new concept. I would like to submit that it is based on the highest divine authority of the words of Lord Jesus Christ when He stated, in effect, that “every hidden thing shall be revealed.” After all, light exposes darkness. Knowledge overcomes ignorance; and God states that: “My people perish for lack of knowledge.” Thus the lack of publicity of true knowledge ultimately leads to ignorance, darkness and death. A wise person once stated that “all that evil needs to succeed is that good [people] do nothing.”
If we accept the central proposition of the pivotal importance of publicity, then we should find no difficulty in accepting the contention that the media in any society are a fundamentally important institution. If it is the role of the legal academic to discipline the judiciary, then it would not be farfetched to contend that it is the role of the media to discipline public institutions. This role becomes particularly necessary where such public institution does not exercise any internal discipline, except in a discriminatory manner. Or where its senior officials regularly ignore the rule of law or behave as if they are laws unto themselves. Or where such public institution is highly intolerant of and impatient with critical and constructive discourses and debates. Public institutions must be subjected to the most rigorous public scrutiny in any society which respects the rule of law and good governance.
Take for instance our only public university. One would think that vigorous academic discourses would be encouraged, not discouraged or even punished. One would expect us to lead the nation in establishing enlightened policies with respect to transparency, good governance, the application of the rule of law, the protection of ‘whistle-blowers,’ the protection of the constitutional rights of UG workers and many other pressing issues. But alas, this is non-existent.
I have recently called on the UG Council to address a number of these issues. I am hereby putting the University of Guyana on notice that if it does not establish its own internal discipline and leadership in this regard, I will call upon the public media to give full effect and vindication to Bentham’s proposition.
Prof Calvin Eversley
UG Department of Law