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Shocking scenes outside Magistrate’s Court

Shocking scenes outside Magistrate’s Court

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There was a shocking front page article in this newspaper of Tuesday, September 24, 2013, captioned “Family members battle police outside the Magistrate’s Court”. The tone was continued on page 11, with the caption “Youth guilty of burglary: family members, police trade blows outside the magistrate’s court.” The photographs, which accompanied them gave disturbing stories.{{more}} Certainly the cameras did not lie. The awful pictures showed persons, including females in confrontation with police officers. One showed the police trying to arrest one person and family members trying to pull him away. I have not heard or seen of any spectacle of this nature before in our country. It was a sad day for SVG, especially at a time when people have been making claims about police brutality. These pictures certainly did not show police brutality and these are not scenes in some isolated place, but scenes right in front of our magistrate’s court. This is an insult to our justice system.

Reaction to conviction

According to the accounts, a member of the clan was found guilty of burglary and rather than leave the court area peacefully, siblings of the felon attempted to go after a young boy who had given evidence against the accused. Arrest by the police led to an attack on the police by other members of the family.

Witness protection

The police would have to view witnesses differently and afford them some degree of protection. Witnesses should not mingle with the crowd at a time when family members are in a sense of denial. As seen, one cannot anticipate reasonable behaviour by relatives of a convicted felon. In the past, family reaction was exhibited in an emotional breakdown outside the courthouse, not in this violent outbreak. Police have to be on their guard outside the courthouse and provide safe passage to witnesses. There should be a definite plan for witness protection. I believe that some type of covert protection is afforded witnesses in high profile cases, but as seen in this case, no special protection was afforded the witness. Police protection is of utmost importance for the continuation of our type of court system. People are already reluctant to go to court to give evidence for various reasons. In some instances they are too busy or they are afraid of reprisals from the criminal. Now, as it seems, there is another consideration, retaliation by family members. Police need to assure the public that they could be relied on to provide protection. This message must be a deliberate policy to reach everyone.

To family members of convicted offenders

It is illegal to attack anyone and that extends to witnesses in court matters. The message for family members of offenders is that they cannot attack witnesses without serious consequences. Testimonies from witnesses are at the foundation of our justice system. If it is undermined or in any way attacked, there would be serious consequences. There are facilities in place, which are available if one is dissatisfied with a decision of the lower courts. There is the Court of Appeal and if one is still not satisfied there is the Privy Council. One cannot use brute force to resolve a matter. Ours is a small country, and one cannot run away from the consequences of one’s actions. What, when that same family needs police protection? I hope that some important lessons are learnt in this instance and individuals would not allow their anger to take control.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.

E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com

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