Governor General Sir Elliott Belgrave Friday issued a stern warning to the media as he took the unusual move of criticizing recent “false” news reports about the work of the Mercy Committee.
As he wrapped up his speech during an official visit to the Christ Church Girls’ School, Sir Elliott expressed his displeasure at a recent newspaper article, which he said was not only false, but may have prejudiced the case of a prison inmate.
The article claimed that members of the local Privy Council’s Mercy Committee had been conducting interviews in one community to ascertain the views of residents about the possible early release of convicted murderer, Arleigh Hector James.
“Recently there have been a lot of chatter in the press concerning the work of the Privy Council, they call it the Mercy Committee. What I don’t agree with is that when you criticize you must make sure that your facts are facts, because one of the articles that I take exception to seeks to give the impression that members of the Privy Council go into districts to investigate cases which might come before the Privy Council for dispensation of mercy.
“Members of the Privy Council do not do that. We don’t go out in any community seeking for information. So if anybody went out there doing that it could not be members of the Privy Council,” he said.
The Governor General further rubbished claims that James, who was sentenced in May 1994 for the murder of Debra James and Sabrina Arlington, had applied for clemency.
He said that the report might have jeopardized James’ chance for a fair hearing before the Mercy Committee.
“The face which was highlighted . . . as being ripe for early remission of sentence was never before the Privy Council. It was never there and putting the inmate’s name in the press when there was no petition for him before the Privy Council was a little prejudicial to his case if at any time one should be sent up.
“So the first thing that they should do is to get their facts right and don’t seek to prejudice unfairly the case of a man who has not yet applied to the Privy Council for clemency,” Sir Elliott stressed.
The Governor General, who heads the Mercy Committee, pointed out that under the Constitution, the Mercy Committee dispenses the Royal prerogative.
He said the body includes the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and other members, even as he took issue with the article for revealing the name of a member of the committee.
“The members are not usually made public because you don’t want them to be harassed by anybody, but the press chose to mention names and mentioned a name of a person who was a member of the council. So that is sort of the thing that makes me unhappy.”