In a donkeys’ domain, it would indeed be immeasurably daft not to anticipate storms of asinine droppings. But what a conundrum when this same venue comprising mainly volcanic rock and barren trees has produced not just one but two Nobel Prize winners: one for Development Economics, the other for Literature?
In other words, if the law is indeed an ass, as they say it is, then what do we do who are evidently capable of the highest awards for demonstrated higher intelligence?
My special concern this week centers on the conduct of proceedings at the Family Court: “Persons shall not be present during the hearing of any proceedings under the act except officers of the court, parties to the proceedings and their counsel, witnesses, or any other person permitted by the magistrate to be present.”
By which I understand the act to be saying the magistrate may allow in court anyone she chooses. Moreover: “A witness shall leave the courtroom if asked to do so by the magistrate. This section does not limit any other power of the court to hear proceedings in camera or to exclude any person from the court.”
Which I understand to mean citizens—including reporters—may attend family court hearings provided they comply with certain stated directives. These may include non-publication of particular evidence, names, especially those of children, inter alia. Obviously, there are excellent reasons for these preconditions. But to altogether deny coverage of court matters, just because you can, which is how most local reporters read Part 5 of the Domestic Violence Act, seems to fly in the face of the requirement that justice must not only be done but must also be seen to be done. How can justice be seen to be done when the only witnesses are court officials, accusers, defenders and their lawyers?
Let’s not forget that a reporter who does not comply with the rules opens himself or herself to serious sanctions, including contempt of court. So now, the usual question: Where is he going with this?—as if already you haven’t guessed.
I am referring to a widely reported recent case of domestic violence—covered ever so gingerly by our notoriously courageous press. The victim applied to the Family Court for a protection order against her live-in lover and father of their young child.
In support of her application she furnished the court with sickening details of what she had suffered at the hands of a man who professed to love and cherish her, with whom she had produced another human being. Not only did he physically and otherwise abuse her, he had threatened her more than once with his firearm.
Now, dear reader, the woman could’ve required the police to charge her boyfriend criminally on several counts. For reasons we can only speculate on, she chose (as she has a right to do, however counterproductive in the short and long run) to seek instead a protection order from the Family Court.
I have no idea why the press seems to be barred from publishing the woman’s name. But the man has received deserved widespread publicity that certainly will leave citizens with the impression he is to be treated at all times as armed and dangerous, and prone to fits of uncontrollable anger.
It also has been published that the man is a lawyer attached to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions that makes decisions
related to justice in our country. The DPP’s office has informed concerned citizens that it is helpless in the circumstances, since the victimized woman chose to go to the Family Court rather than file criminal charges.
In other jurisdictions, after a victim of domestic violence has made a statement to the police, and after they have conducted their related investigations, they can prosecute—even without the complainant’s cooperation. But this is Saint Lucia.
Of course, it is remains the DPP’s job to say when to prosecute and when not to prosecute—even when the accused in the domestic dispute is her gun-slinging crown counsel!