Is John Peters barking up wrong tree?

Public reaction to last month’s appeal court decision regarding a perceived typographical error in the Saint Lucia Constitution is finally beginning to trickle in—predictably, long after the horses have bolted.

The first reaction (to one of my three or four articles on the Privy Council-CCJ controversy) came from a friend who can hardly be described as a disinterested party. He is a lawyer, demonstrably a darn good one at that. If only to discourage the usual distraction seekers among us, perhaps I should quickly point out his name is not Peter Foster!

What had moved my other friend to write to me privately about the appeal court decision and its possible impact on our relationship with the Privy Council was only vaguely related to the meat of the matter. Rather, his note targeted a member of his profession. At any rate, a wannabe brother!

“Did you really publish an article by Leonard Ogilvy on a legal opinion handed down from our court of appeal?” he wrote, doubtless in shock. “I’m not sure if I’m more offended that the article was by Ogilvy, or that it was published in the STAR, or that the STAR did not seek an opinion from a real lawyer but instead went to a man who was deemed to have falsified documents to cause a judge to admit him to practice as an attorney-at-law in Saint Lucia. Maybe I am more offended that the person who sought to pass judgment on my esteemed judges and criticize their legal opinion was a man purporting to be, but certainly not learned in the law, and certainly not deserving of two pages in the STAR to state his opinion on anything, legal or otherwise. Couldn’t let you get away with that one without saying something!”

After all, what are friends for! My response was that the STAR had not sought out the notorious Mr Ogilvy. Indeed the reverse was true: his unsolicited article had been submitted to every other local news medium. Alas, I was in no position to say why they had chosen to publish or to disregard Ogilvy’s typically windy screed. Neither could I explain why the other media houses had been silent before, during and after the court of appeal had handed down its two-to-one decision in favor of the parties that had contended there was in our Constitution a particular typographical error that needed most urgently to be clarified.

As for the highly politicized issue of Ogilvy’s professional status, I chose not to reopen that can of political worms that included more than one discombobulating precedent, not least of them his urgent deportation. However, I could not resist directing my friend to the court record which indelibly confirms that before he was judged a fraud, a goon in a lawyer’s gown, Leonard Ogilvy had in a highly publicized court battle easily flattened one of our more respected Queen’s Counsels.

I also reminded my friend that while I had never been a fan of Ogilvy’s perorations, I would, like Voltaire, “defend to the death” his right to express himself as best pleased him. (Okay, I hyperbolize. “To the death” may be stretching it a tad too far!)

Since the exchange with my friend the unidentified lawyer, Kenneth Monplaisir QC had shared with the public his own feelings about the CCJ. Predictably late, yes, but let us not be ingrates in the face of small mercies.

Meanwhile the well-known engineer and newspaper contributor Mr John Peters has challenged the media to carry out what he described as our “responsibility to guard against unwarranted attacks against our democracy,” exemplified by a statement in the Mirror attributed to Evans Calderon: “I would prefer the Privy Council to the CCJ. The judges in the OECS know everybody. Our judges are not financially independent and morally strong.”

Calderon’s reported comments had struck Peters as absolutely unwarranted. They implied “legal luminaries such as Sir Vincent Floissac or Justice Suzie [d’Auvergne] were not morally strong.” He considered Calderon’s statement “vile, offensive and downright ridiculous.”

If Calderon wished to “hang on to the last vestiges of colonialism [where have I heard that one before?] he should do that by himself,” Peters advised. “The Caribbean people have demonstrated our ability to govern ourselves with distinction and will continue to create the structures to build our democracy.”

In his published appeal to the media, Peters also asserted: “To allow Mr Calderon’s comment to go unchallenged would be saying we have a tainted judiciary in the OECS, where judges have accepted bribes, a most serious accusation from a lawyer with over 40 years in the courts. My call to you in the media is to pursue this matter and to ensure that the high regard in which the OECS court has been held worldwide is not damaged by frivolity and ignorance. The very fabric of our society is hinged on an independent and incorruptible judiciary.”

As I understood Calderon—a particularly controversial communications and works minister in the time of the Allan Louisy and Winston Cenac short-lived Labour administration, and a practicing lawyer—seemed to be hinting only at the widely perceived vulnerability of the region’s justice system. I sense no attack on the integrity of the CCJ per se. Indeed, popular interest in the court is almost non-existent, primarily concerned as are most of us about local justice. (Ironically, though based in Trinidad & Tobago, the twin Republic has yet to entrust justice in the hands of the CCJ.)

Indisputably, Calderon’s “offensive” remark echoes the popular voice, a fact generously recently acknowledged by Dominica’s ever perspicacious Anthony Astaphan SC, when he concluded the Caribbean people were in dire need of such education as would cause a sea  change in the way we view our politicians.

It is particularly appalling that those who mindlessly suggest the wall-to-wall reluctance to get aboard the CCJ bandwagon is indicative of palpable ignorance, a genetic house-nigger desire to “hang on to the last vestiges of colonialism” and so on, almost never address what passes for justice in these parts: citizens languishing without hope in our prisons without a trial date, unresolved police brutality cases, hundreds of forgotten homicides, untried rapes and other crimes of violence, not to mention hotshot lawyer-politicians who with impunity have made a career of making the poor still poorer in the absence of legal aid!

Especially in our current circumstances, I will resist touching on Peters’ discombobulating declaration that “the Caribbean people have demonstrated our ability to govern ourselves with distinction and will create the structures to build our democracy.” But then, there is in the quoted statement then perhaps inadvertent admission that while we talk glibly about how democratic we are, the irreducible truth is we have yet to “create the structures to build our democracy.”

Of course that’s hardly news to the incarcerated scores and others for whom justice has been far too long delayed!


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