Justice! Injustice! …and in the balance our humanity as a nation as we approach our fifty-second year of Independence, please allow me to share thoughts on this critical and all too often failing aspect of our society.
The case of a poultry farmer found guilty of possession of 8 grammes of marijuana and sentenced to three years in prison is the perfect case to use as basis for my discussion. Was justice served by the Magistrate’s strict adherence to the Letter of the Law? Or was an injustice meted out to another inhabitant of the lower strata of our citizenry who deserved better service by our Judiciary?
The lawyers among us argue that the magistrate had no choice and it is up to the Executive and Parliament of Guyana to change this oppressive legislation. I see this as an example of the poor thinking produced by a deficient education system; the Judiciary always has options available to serve Justice, they can become activists for change by the actions they take, for example they can readily dismiss cases for any number of technicalities, they can inquire into the reasons for the searches, ask questions of the police, use the answers to throw out evidence, they can advise the accused before them (all too often unrepresented) to plead not guilty and then so find, there are a plethora of ways to make it clear to the Police force and Government of the day that you (the Judiciary) are not going to deliver unjust verdicts, that you will uphold law and order but that does not include perpetrating this or any other injustice.
The phenomenon of activist Judges is well established in the United States and is often cited in the famous abortion rights case Roe v Wade among others. This sort of activism can be extended into all areas of life affected by unjust laws, the case of an Amerindian man jailed for three years for possession of a ‘spent shell’ which is no more harmful than a thimble, comes readily to mind. I would invite others who have suffered these injustices and/or their lawyers to make these cases known, we can possibly work to set up a repository of information online and sooner rather than later the politicians will take heed and amendments will be effected. The Judiciary of Guyana must evolve, they can no longer be slaves to the letter of the law, they must be moved by the Spirit of Justice!
The responsibility is heavy as our nation emerges from its infancy and cannot be left to drift, I urge our judicial officers to heed the words of Aristotle “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”