The United States Supreme Court during World War II once held that imprisoning Japanese-descended American citizens in labour camps based on their ancestry was constitutional.
In the case Dred Scott versus Sandford 1857, Chief Justice Robert Taney ruled that black slaves brought to America, or their descendants, were not people within the meaning of the American Constitution and hence not entitled to its protection.
In Maryland in 2011 the Supreme Court overturned the convictions of two men found guilty of the murders of three children in a Northwest Baltimore apartment seven years earlier because the trial judge had made mistakes that prevented the defendants from receiving a fair trial.
A legal luminary once said that judges expect, indeed demand, that their decisions be respected. He noted that they did not want to revisit their decisions unless there was an absolute need to do so to avoid an error that would result in a manifest injustice.
“Unless you are able to articulate succinctly that the judge’s decision meets these standards, take your hit and move on,” was the considered suggestion.
Our judiciary has served Barbados excellently both in the pre-Independence and post-1966 period. That is an irrefutable fact. But as a very conservative society, the average citizen hardly, if ever, questions the decisions of our judicial officers.
But of course the checks and balances enshrined in the various stages of the appellate system are testimony to the inherent admission that our judicial officers are fallible. Indeed, we would be acutely naive to believe that divinity speaks, when the court speaks — Vox iudices, non est Deus.
We expect and we are usually guaranteed that the highest duty of care and judicial diligence are exercised when matters reach our courts, whether civil or criminal, whether at the magistracy or supreme level of adjudication. But what about commissions of enquiry?
Anyone with any modicum of understanding of how a commission operates, would be aware that the extremely high standards applied to criminal matters, and to civil litigation, do not as a legal requirement apply to the collection of evidence in commissions of enquiry.
We are aware that evidence gathered in a commission of enquiry cannot be used as the basis to bring charges against those whose reputations might be laid bare as having fallen short of their professional or legal responsibilities. But commissions of enquiry have the power to lead to the forming of opinions, the initiation of actions, and sadly, the damnation of their protagonists.
So what then about the Report of the Commission of Inquiry Into The Administration Of The Alexandra School?
The learned and highly respected Justice Frederick Waterman has been very precise in his condemnation of Principal Jeff Broomes and the action which should be taken against him. In short, he says, Broomes and the Alexandra School must be no more a union.
But if the evidence exposed to nauseating effect to the commission of enquiry and the general public is to be believed, Broomes was not portrayed as the only problem at that excellent St. Peter educational institution.
The evidence highlighted that Amaida Greaves is a teacher. The evidence highlighted that Amaida Greaves did not teach for a significant period of time, whether that was a week, month, a term or a year. The evidence highlighted did not show she was either on convalescent leave, maternity leave or study leave during the periods she did not teach. The evidence showed that there was acrimony between Greaves and Broomes, but it did not show that Greaves was forbidden from teaching.
The question, therefore, is despite the extenuating circumstances mentioned in the report, why were Barbadian school children made to suffer for the unsavoury intrigue played out among adults?
The report indicates that there is evidence that Greaves was in breach of paragraph 2 (q) of the Code of Discipline in that she failed to perform the duties assigned to her office which amounted to “misconduct of a serious nature.”
Yet for that “misconduct of a serious nature” the definitive recommendation in the report reads: “It would suffice if Mrs. Greaves is given a written reprimand.”
While the report was very precise in what the fate of Broomes should be, there was noticeable delegation to the Ministry of Education as to what action it should ultimately take with Greaves with that virtual addendum of a suggested written reprimand.
We understand that this matter is far from over with attorneys-at-law perhaps preparing their various briefs to take whatever actions they deem fit in the interest of their client(s).
Our history shows that hardly anything ever results from commissions of enquiry. But this is a special case that cannot be filed away to catch dust.
As much as they might protest, neither Broomes, Greaves nor any of the other players in this tragedy are victims. Alexandra’s schoolchildren are. A bad precedent with respect to the relationship among principal, teachers, children and state stakeholders has been set at the school and we must get it right for future generations of schoolchildren.
And yes, the voice of Justice Waterman, is not the voice of God.