In times of criminal or accidental tragedy, public servants with significant national influence should be extremely cautious with their public utterances, especially where due legal process is certain to eventuate at some later date.
We all regret the occurrence of Tuesday’s accident at Nursery Drive, the City, involving a Public Service Vehicle that led to a mass casualty situation, and unfortunately, the subsequent loss of a limb for Springer Memorial student, Zakiyah Defreitas. The trauma for the teenager, her family and friends cannot be overstated.
But in such cases where someone is to be held culpable for the infliction of pain and trauma, we must be very mindful that we live in a democracy where the rule of law is sacrosanct. Baying for blood and ignoring the principle of innocent until proven guilty have no place in Barbadian society. We are all entitled to due process irrespective of the dastardly deed.
What has happened in Barbados since Tuesday’s events has raised a number of questions and brought some of our overzealous politicians and public officials
Whatever one might think about the players in the Public Service Vehicles industry – the drivers, the owners or the commuters – those involved are primarily citizens of Barbados and if they find themselves on the wrong side of the law, they should feel comfortable that due process will take place without tacit or explicit influence by anyone.
We hold no brief for anyone involved at any level in Tuesday’s accident, but we fear that the trial of the individual held culpable, Matthew Daniel, might have already started in high places in the public domain.
Minister of Transport Michael Lashley visited Tuesday’s tragedy and was emphatic in his pronouncements.
“I can go, get a permit, pick up anybody from the road, put them in a van, dress them up, or sometimes don’t even dress them up, put them in slippers and they can go on the roads and transport passengers as recklessly as possible,” he said at the scene. Of course, he said he was not making judgement on the accident, but perhaps the goodly attorney did not quite understand what “making judgement” meant or what the use of the word “recklessly” denoted.
In the wake of the accident the Barbados Transport Authority, through its chairman Abdul Pandor, has issued a statement that PSV drivers and conductors who continue to act recklessly and break the law might soon have to find other means of employment. Mr Pandor is on solid ground to make a general statement that suggests an attempt to bring greater order in the industry. However, one does not have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate the timing of Pandor’s comments and the inevitable association of acting recklessly and breaking the law with Tuesday’s accident.
The Barbados Transport Authority then took it to another level with director Alex Linton adding his voice to the situation. He revealed that the BTA had suspended the permit of the owner of the vehicle involved with immediate effect. He said the permit would remain suspended until investigators had determined what caused the mass casualty on Nursery Drive. He expressed deep concern about “general lawlessness” among PSV drivers on the streets of Barbados, and added he was also considering whether Daniel’s licence should be revoked.
Daniel’s innocence or guilt is not our concern. The law courts will make that determination and will prescribe the necessary punishment if he is found guilty of charges brought against him, or will acquit him if the state fails to prove its case against him. But where our concern rests is that punishment should not be inflicted before guilt has been proven nor should sentiments be publicly expressed by those in authority that could appear to influence any future determination of innocence or guilt. In the celebrated case R V Sussex Justices, Ex parte McCarthy (1924), it was forever established that: “Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.”
Before due process has occurred in Mr Daniel’s case, persons in authority are already using language and taking action directly and indirectly associated with Tuesday’s accident, that might lead us to question whether justice will be seen to be done. Some have already questioned why in a month where an accused rapist has been bailed and in a year where an accused murderer has been offered bail, why has a non-fatal accident resulted in remand?
The traveling public has a part to play in improving what transpires in the PSV industry. The police and the law courts have a part to play as well. There was the previous introduction of demerit points in the system where an accumulation of a specific number points could have led to a revocation of licence or other punishment. That has become a forgotten feature in the management of road users.
We agree that something must be done to make our roads safe for both pedestrians and motorists. And authorities are mandated to ensure that strategies are put in place to achieve this. But at the same time when persons are alleged to have run afoul of our laws, emotional responses should not be part of the solution.