“SCHOOL people must not fall into the trap of thinking that early preparation for an unjust world requires early exposure to injustice.” (Oakes Jeannie, award-winning author)
The voices of those pressing for justice to be done in a judicious and efficient manner in Saint Lucia are – in my opinion – too few and silent. To the average accuser, accused or mere observer, justice seems to have found itself running afoul of the law for many years now. But the mere fact that our national anthem espouses justice, truth and charity as ideally a part of our social fabric speaks to the relevance of justice in our society.
Even if one does not have a case pending in court at this time, one can readily surmise how antiquated and backward a state our justice system seems to have stuck itself in for years now. The long list of people on remand at the Bordelais Correctional Facility awaiting a court date for eons now certainly calls into question the seriousness we place on people’s human rights. One often gets the impression that Saint Lucians cease having any rights as soon as they are imprisoned.
The recent outburst by the President of the Bar Association of Saint Lucia, Mary Juliana Charles, seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back as far as the evidenced neglect of the island’s judicial infrastructure is concerned. That it took Charles’ chiding of the Ministry of Justice to elicit at least a serious response in getting the outstanding matters concerning the courthouse on Peynier Street resolved is no less than shameful.
Admittedly, while I do not consider myself the best fan of politicians and lawyers, I will always stand ready to praise those who do speak up on the people’s behalf and have the courage to walk their talk. In my earlier years, I, too, fell in love with the line from William Shakespeare’s “King Henry VI”: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” The line might be humorous in a sense, but I really don’t endorse killing anybody, let alone lawyers. Besides, it’s against the law, anyway, and we do rely on them greatly when we catch a case.
But few lawyers here really make me believe that we can make things change for the better as far as justice is concerned: human rights advocate, Mary Francis and, of late, Mary Juliana Charles, are among them. Despite their common passion to want to get the right thing done, the former has unfortunately been metaphorically crucified for being misconstrued by a populace that seems not to know what their rights are while the latter has virtually been deified for standing up to the State’s intransigence.
For starters, when Francis speaks about human rights, she does so about our collective rights. For many people, though, she comes across as speaking on behalf of the criminals only. Many people seem to conveniently forget that had it not been for people like Francis and Rick Wayne, many of us would still not have the faintest idea about what an inquest is.
It is Francis who sticks her head out as a bull’s eye to the arrows demanding that justice is at least be seen to be done when she believes that a citizen’s rights have been abridged. Such bravery has resulted in her being ostracized by a society that chooses to remain misunderstood and Francis herself losing paying clients. Nevertheless, she remains a champion to those who cannot afford legal representation. She also proves to be prime fodder for a few police officers who feature her in their annual calypso competition.
As for Charles, it was way past maturation time that a Bar President really stood up confidently and said what needed to be said about the dilapidated state of our so-called halls of justice. Clearly, protest marches in this country prove to get very little done. Sometimes it’s best to not show up to work and see how the system gets any work done without us. That’s the current stance that Charles and her legal fraternity are willing to take presently unless the relevant ministry sees it fit to settle the outstanding matter involving the State v. the Disenchanted Bar Association.
Charles’ main contention is that the request for an air quality assessment report on the courthouse’s condition her association put forward some time ago seems to have flown over the minister’s head by mistake. Or accidentally fallen into the paper shredder. Despite ongoing renovations at the downtown Castries courthouse, Charles said her legal eagles are not batting one wing in the edifice until it is declared fit for human accommodation by an accredited organization.
The air quality at the courthouse is a serious matter, forcing staff there to stay away from work on many occasions. Built after the great fire that decimated Castries in 1948, asbestos was among the building materials used. Considered safe back then, asbestos later turned out to be a carcinogen. Long-term exposure to asbestos in humans via inhalation can result in the lung disease, asbestosis, characterized by shortness of breath and cough. How ironic that where one has to go in pursuit of justice can be the place where they receive a death sentence via asbestosis.
Lest we forget already, the principal of the Castries Comprehensive Secondary School, Marva Daniel, must also come in for high praise by refusing to allow her teachers and students to enter the school premises earlier this month following similar complaints about the building’s dilapidated state and air quality concerns. After years of cold shoulders from the relevant ministries, the matter has since been resolved. Kudos to the Infrastructure and Education ministries for finally stepping in and stepping up.
In a culture where many of us seem content with just going with the system’s snail’s pace – or stagnant –flow, we definitely need to recognize and applaud those people brave enough to stand up and get things changed for the better for all of us. There must be a deep sense of justice existing within our society, even when we lose court matters. In the end, what matters most is that for the system to work, everyone needs to do the work.
What I find incredulous is that many of our leading public figures, including our Prime Minister and Speaker of the House of Assembly, are also attorneys. Richard Frederick, Lorne Theophilus, Stanley Felix, Andy Daniel and the Minister for Justice, Victor La Corbiniere, are also attorneys. As such, it would stand to reason that the poor working environment at the beleaguered courthouse should not have gotten to the state it has since that’s where they earn their on-and-off bread and butter from time to time. Our fewest of dollars must be prioritized, right?
Like Francis and Charles and many other Saint Lucians who do speak out against perceived injustices – and put names and faces to their voices and words – I really don’t mind being vilified for doing what I think is right. Saint Lucians are not asking for a utopian state; we’re simply asking that the lip service stops and the appropriate actions to rectify the injustices in our lives be executed post-haste.
If you asked me, the State espousing justice as a hallmark and not pursuing its upkeep is basically tantamount to, well, just ice-cold hearts keeping us ignorant, imprisoned and oppressed.