For far too long the response in some quarters to suggestions that the Honorable Hardon J. Pharte should not be permitted near a department of government, let alone to manage it, has been to take refuge behind our criminal law system with its “presumption of innocence” provision. But what does it mean, presumption of innocence? Too many imagine it means an individual did not commit the crime of which he is accused. Nothing could be further from the truth. After all, a 90-year-old does not need to be told by a judge she was raped or otherwise maltreated by a suited-up miscreant.
Presumption of innocence under our legal system simply means an accused person is not required to prove his or her innocence in court. It’s up to the prosecutor to establish his or her guilt to the satisfaction of a jury of their peers.
Moreover, the prosecution must prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” To fail to do so is to declare the accused free to go. Does that mean, then, the accused did not rape that defenseless 90-something female in her own bed? It does—and then again it doesn’t. Court cases are often won and lost only because of dodgy collection of evidence, lousy lawyers, lying witnesses, prejudiced jurors and yes, judges on the take. Then there are the “technicalities,” like failure to inform an accused of his Miranda rights. (As I write a Norwegian who in 2012 murdered 77 people, mainly children, and was sentenced to 21 years in prison, this week won his suit against the government for breaching his human rights while imprisoned.)
The rationale for the presumption of innocence is that it’s better that the guilty go free than the innocent be convicted. Of course, in some countries, China for one, an individual is presumed guilty until proved innocent. It hardly serves the cause of justice that in Saint Lucia we have no witness protection programs. No organized legal aid—you first have to kill someone before you are entitled to a lawyer at state expense. The majority of abused citizens simply cannot afford the price of justice. Often the accused well placed is surrounded by a battery of high-flying legal vultures that volunteered their free services. Meanwhile the complainant, more often than not, stands alone, frightened, unrepresented, wondering why he or she chose to come to court in the first place. This commonplace situation goes a long way in explain why countless atrocities are not reported to the police and why victims from time to time resort to the so-called law of the jungle.
No-account layabouts who were once as distrusting of our justice system as the next twice-bitten citizen take up permanent residence in the high court the minute they’re elected to office. It’s certainly no big secret that a handful of lawyers have made millions defending political figures throughout the region, mostly HOGs with super-sensitive skins. They are the political equivalent of the late Johnnie Cochran, the majority of whose clients were the crème de la crème of American sports and Hollywood. Which brings to mind O.J. Simpson, famously once the face of Hertz, who in 1995 was declared “100 percent not guilty” of the murder of his wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman—to the orgasmic satisfaction of fellow blacks everywhere and more than a few who were not black!
Might Bill Clinton have scored political points had he turned around the day after that resounding not-guilty verdict and installed Simpson as U.S. Ambassador, say, at the American Embassy in Barbados? (Let’s pretend the President never stained Monica’s little blue dress—after all, he was never actually proved guilty save in the court of public opinion, as presidential hopeful Hillary continues to discover!)
If only because government departments cannot function effectively—indeed neither can private business—under dark clouds of suspicion and distrust, it is imperative that holders of public office always be seen in the best possible light. Court decisions are quite often not nearly guarantees of good character—for several reasons other than already cited. These days the Internet can, at the touch of a mouse, tell more about an individual, his suitability for public office or private position, than can be gleaned from a dozen interviews. It is with good reason that in relatively recent times recruiters for the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force have taken to publishing the names of shortlisted job applicants perchance someone might know something about them that rigorous background checks did not uncover. Think Lambirds. What works for the police certainly should be put to work for the rest of the public service—our highest offices in particular.
The prime minister recently revealed to the nation—to the world via the Internet—strong suggestions that the IMPACS report fingers leading government officials, politicians, police officers and businessmen. Conceivably, some of them might be candidates in the upcoming elections. And while both sides of the House often attack one another’s reputations in the worst way, still the prime minister owes we the people his personal guarantee that come Polling Day we will not inadvertently elect actual killers and other criminals to Saint Lucia’s most important offices. It will say much about the prime minister himself should he continue to delay prosecution of the IMPACS report. It is not nearly enough simply to trumpet from a noisy political platform—as recently he did in Gros Islet—“I have no blood on my hands!”
The prime minister may not be nearly as proficient a cadaver canine as he seems to imagine himself. Besides, he was never elected judge, jury and forensic expert. Better to leave it to our authorized sniffers to determine what indeed are gouts of blood, fatal visions, and distracting red herrings!