THE castigation of the media by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) for reporting the comments of Justice Frank Seepersad without seeking its response is a patent attempt to deflect attention from the sorry state of the administration of justice.
In a classic case of shooting the messenger, the JLSC completely side-stepped the issue raised by Justice Seepersad regarding the failure of then Magistrate Gillian David-Scotland to provide a written explanation for her four-year sentencing of Christopher Shair within 60 days of his appeal as required by law. If the JLSC has a problem with Justice Seepersad’s comments it should use whatever appropriate channels are available to it. Picking on the media is not an option for the very reasons cited by the JLSC – “survival of our democracy”.
This newspaper completely rejects the JLSC’s charge of irresponsible journalism. In delivering judgments, judges routinely extrapolate from the particular case to its wider implications for justice. Some elaborate more than others. Journalists who cover the court understand their responsibility to faithfully report what is said in court. They may seek responses from individuals or institutions affected by a judge’s comments but they commit no sin of journalism by simply reporting the judge’s statement as made in court.
Like anyone else, the JLSC has the right to respond to the comments of a judge, which in this case, it duly exercised by issuing a statement which we also faithfully reported. However, there was absolutely no basis for its accusation of media irresponsibility or its suggestion that a judge’s comments should not be published until and unless responses are sought from affected parties.
Given standard practice in court reporting, it is interesting that the JLSC should see a threat to democracy when it is itself the object of the court’s criticism. The sub-text here may well be not so much the media which is always a convenient fall guy, but the fact that the subject of Justice Seepersad’s comment was the “adverse impact on the administration of justice” of “dereliction of duty”.
This case involving Magistrate David-Scotland has an obvious parallel with the horrendously messy business surrounding the promotion to the bench and swift demotion of Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar who was discovered to have left behind 52 undetermined cases, with grave consequences for litigants and the administration of justice. In the case of Magistrate David-Scotland who has been promoted to Acting Master of the Court, her failure resulted in Shair’s appeal being delayed for three years.
The parallel between the cases may have been uppermost in the JLSC’s mind in detailing its account of the circumstances surrounding David-Scotland’s failure to meet her legal obligations. By its account, the JLSC would appear to be satisfied with her explanation. If this is indeed so, then the JLSC must be held to account for the failure of the justice system which resulted in the former magistrate not knowing that a litigant had filed an appeal against her sentence for which she had legal obligations. It is this travesty of justice and not the media that is the real issue to be addressed.