Just as court cases rely on evidence, so too does reporting rely on accuracy – and especially when reporting on matters relating to Courts of Justice (High or Low) and involving Judges, Magistrates and lawyers for complainants and defendants.
Every reporter who’s been on the job long enough will have unintentionally misinformed the public on an issue, whether after being deliberately misinformed or by quoting a misinterpreted report, or not doing enough to ascertain the facts.
Same with journalists, who can opine wrongly based on a misinterpretation of a misinterpretation or misunderstanding.
Take the case of an earlier column in this series on whether Saint Lucia needs a referendum to accede to the Appellate Jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice.
I reported on a report that former Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony had said in a webinar on the CCJ that the island needed to have a referendum before it could make the CCJ its Final Court of Appeal and proceeded to extrapolate on the likelihood that the past and present prime ministers could have been informed differently.
I posited that from my knowledge of the facts surrounding then Prime Minister Anthony’s first broaching of the subject with the CCJ and the decision by current Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre to go ahead and join Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Guyana as the next CARICOM member-states to repatriate justice to the region from London’s Privy Council.
I argued that both prime ministers wanted the same, but one had been more politically decisive in approach while the other was buoyed by constitutional anchors.
I even ascribed the differences in approach to the fact that one is a lawyer and the other isn’t.
I pointed out too, that given the unlikeliness of securing the 66.6% of votes cast required by the Constitutions left by Britain for success, few CARICOM leaders would be willing to call a referendum on anything, far less to dump one of the last relics of colonial heritage in the Caribbean.
I recalled that indeed, Antigua & Barbuda had paid the bitter price of failing in a bid to join the CCJ by referendum St. Vincent & The Grenadines suffered a near fatal blow seeking to amend the Constitution.
And I argued that the experiences of independent Caribbean states daring or trying to enter deeper into a relationship of a regional court they are already members of was one of the reasons Britain left stumbling blocks and hurdles in the Constitutions bequeathed to its former colonies, to prevent them from easily severing the colonial relationship.
All that, only to find that while it all made more sense than cents, my article had been inspired by a misreporting of a misinterpretation that led to a case of unintended misinformation by a reporter not having listened well-enough and sparking a chain of events that again reinforce the need for evidence and facts to be ascertained, whether in cases before courts or reports on legal (or constitutional) matters.
I called Dr Anthony to ascertain what he said and this is exactly what he said (to me): “Whoever reported that I said I was told that St Lucia required a referendum before proceeding to the CCJ had it all wrong.”
He went on to explain, “I do not believe St Lucia requires a referendum.”
And further, “I accept the Advisory Opinion of the Court that there was an error in our Constitution and we may proceed to adopt the CCJ without a referendum.”
The former Prime Minister then explained what seemed to have been misinterpreted and therefore misreported.
He said: “What I tried to suggest is that some will not accept this and may well bring an action before the court, so that the Privy Council can have the final say on the issue.”
By my recollection, that was very true, because during the debates that raged across the region about whether or not to replace the Privy Council with a CCJ, there were high-profile lawyers here who stoutly rejected the idea and pledged to fight it tooth-and-nail all the way.
Heads of established law firms traditionally benefitting from the lucrative business of presenting local cases in London publicly accused younger lawyers and everyone else daring to talk about breaking with the Privy Council of everything from being “communists” and “Black Power” advocates who were “Ungrateful to The Queen…”
The arguments for breaking with the Privy Council and establishing a Caribbean court eventually won the day less than two decades ago, after four decades of Independence in the former British West indies.
However, there will always be those in the legal and political arenas, willing and able to take advantage of every legal or constitutional loophole to prevent the remaining ten CARICOM nations from taking the ultimate step of showing confidence in the ability of Caribbean judges to interpret the Treaty of Chaguaramas (that established CARICOM) no less and/or even better than Privy Council judges in London.
The sheer cost of pursuing Justice in London is way beyond the reach of the average CARICOM citizen, whereas CCJ judges go to member-states and provide online hearings, with cases dispensed of more quickly than London – and at much-less cost.
And that’s why Dr Anthony, dependent on bicameral parliamentary support at the time, was mindful of the presence of such persons in the Saint Lucia equation who were willing and able to stall the process in the parliament and in the courts — unlike now, when the government has more than a two-thirds majority in the House of Assembly.
And herein lies my explanation of how I unintentionally misrepresented what a learned man had said, based on a professional misinterpretation of what someone else had read and reported, leading ultimately to misinformation of the public on a matter before the court of public opinion.
In which case, I humbly yield…