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The free Press

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The free press is an essential part of our life, as we know it. It is the “eyes and ears” of the general public, the oxygen which keeps our democracy alive. The press carries a huge weight of responsibility requiring discernment, temperance, tolerance, fair play and balanced judgment. It cannot take the law into its own hands. Journalists have no legal rights to go anywhere; do anything or publish anything beyond what is their legal right. {{more}}Otherwise, they will be above the law. The great English Judge, Lord Denning commenting on the rule of law rather than the rule of men posited: “Be you ever so high the law is above you”

The Press and Contempt of Court

There is a voluminous body of learning on what the law calls “Contempt of Court” which in a nutshell means, “Scandalising or disrespecting the Court thereby impugning its integrity and delivery of justice.”

The Courts have often held that the conduct of Judges in Court and the decisions of the Courts are legitimate concerns and the press has a right and even a duty to criticize in good faith within reasonable limits. That principle, now sacred, may be summed up, in the famous words of Lord Atkins “Justice is not a cloistered virtue. She must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken comment of ordinary men. However, there must be no imputing of improper motives to those administering justice”.

What is prohibited then is the scurrilous or scandalous abuse of a Judge and the integrity or impartiality of a Judge or Court. For example an article in the “New Statesman” saying that Dr. Marie Stopes, the birth control pioneer, could not hope for a fair hearing before Justice Avory was held to be a serious contempt of Court punishable by imprisonment.

In St. Vincent and the Grenadines it has long been established that a journalist may be prosecuted for common law contempt whether proceedings are active or not .

“A.M. Mayhem and 2 Cool Chris”

Recently, His Lordship Mr. Justice Frederick Bruce-Lyle had expressed in open Court his dissatisfaction with the comments “2 Cool Chris Jones” was making on his morning show “A. M. Mayhem” about the judiciary generally and the Kenneth Samuel murder trial in particular.

At his arraignment on Tuesday, June 7, 2005, the accused, Kenneth Samuel, who was indicted for murder, pleaded guilty to manslaughter. His plea was accepted and sentencing was adjourned.

His counsel, Nicole OM Sylvester indicated to the Court that she needed a psychiatric report on her client, particularly since it was claimed that his mother, on some previous occasion, was a patient of the Mental Health Centre. The obtaining of a psychiatric report in such circumstances is a virtual requirement. Failure to do so could result in an adverse ruling in the Court of Appeal.

Apparently “2 Cool Chris” made a fuss about this course of action. He felt that there was no need for any such report, since clearly, in his view, there was nothing mentally wrong at anytime with Samuel, as Samuel had never before publicly exhibited any signs of madness.

He invited the mother of the deceased, Mwata Wynne, to call into his programme and to express her views on the decision to accept the plea and other matters relating to the case. All this was prior to the sentencing of Kenneth Samuel.

Chris erroneously stated that it was the Judge who accepted the manslaughter plea and he apparently expressed himself in such a way that it suggested that the Learned Trial Judge did not know what he was doing.

Clearly, Chris was “too Cool” in allowing Mayhem to take over. Obviously, he had trespassed onto the landscape of Contempt of Court just as Junior Findlay had done in the mid sixties when he wrongly criticized the presiding Judge on a matter before him at a public meeting. Findlay had read a letter which attempted to scandalize the Court thereby bringing it into public disrepute. Findlay got a prison sentence for his contempt.

Essential Law for Journalists

Most practising journalists are deemed to know the law which governs their profession. A course on the “Essential law for Journalists” was conducted over several weekends last year at the U.W.I School of Continuing Studies at Murray’s Road. The drama, which almost ended in tragedy when “2 Cool” Chris was severely reprimanded and dressed down by Justice Bruce-Lyle, could clearly have been averted had he attended the lectures gratuitously provided.

Luckily for Chris, Justice Bruce Lyle took into consideration that he had publicly apologised on his radio show. His apology was an important factor in ensuring that the matter did not go to its “logical conclusion”.

When the administration of justice is attacked through zeal and ignorance, one of the sturdy pillars of our democracy becomes threatened with ruin. The consequences are too obvious to state.







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