Just over two-dozen members of the Rastafarian community gathered outside the precincts of the District ‘A” Magistrates Court today in a show of solidarity with the Rastafarian parents who were due to be sentenced after they were convicted of failing to send their children to school.
The two were found guilty on September 24 of breaching Section 41 Clause (b) of the Education Act, Chapter 41 on the grounds that there was no record of the children — a boy and a girl both under the age of ten — ever attending formal classes.
However, the group attracted the attention of the police – six of whom were on location – who advised them that they had gathered illegally because they not sought permission from the Commissioner of Police to hold a protest, march or gathering in a public place.
However, Rastafarians were adamant they were not protesting but “silently supporting” the couple.
“We feel that this was necessary to show the public that we are still here, we are still in support of the family, they are still not alone and we are not going to go away with the issue. So the family has that kind of support,” President of the African Heritage Foundation Paul Simba Rock told the media.
Rock said the community was hoping the magistrate would overturn the guilty verdict because, “we do not want the family to end up with a conviction.”
“So we don’t want a fine, certainly we don’t want imprisonment and we don’t want a CRD [conviction, reprimand and discharged]. What we are hoping for is an overturn of the guilty decision,” he said, adding that a conviction would not help the parents who had a custody case pending in the High Court.
The Rastafarian parents arrived around 11:30 a.m. with their children in tow, and were greeted with hugs and smiles from their supporters, before proceeding to the security gate.
Twelve supporters attempted to accompany them to the courtroom, but the guards stopped them, advising that only one person was allowed in with the couple.
That did not go down well with the grouping, which demanded a reason, and moments later, seven of them were given the green light to enter the No. 1 District ‘A’ Magistrates’ Court presided over by Magistrate Douglas Frederick.
However, sentencing was delayed by another three weeks as the parents, now represented by attorneys-at-law Andrew Pilgrim, QC; Douglas Trotman; Sian Lange and Ajamu Boardi questioned the legitimacy of the charge before the courts.
Pilgrim argued that Section 41 of the Education Act did not create an offence, “so the crown refers to Section 61 Subsection (1) Clause (B) . . . which results in a $50 fine”.
“Was evidence led before your worship which showed that these children, were not receiving education suitable to their age and ability?” Pilgrim asked.
He questioned whether any assessment had been done on the children during the course of the Crown’s case, and accused the prosecutors of concocting an offence that did not exist legally.
“The charge as drafted is seeking to combine Section 41 and Section 61 together. If we read the charge the offence is created by failing to register the said child at a school to receive full time education suitable to their age and ability . . . the offence is non-registration of the child.
“So what the drafters of the charge have done is seek to combined the two sections and create an offence that we say does not exist in law. . . a dual offence — they did not register the children and the children are not receiving education not appropriate to their age and ability . . . . So the charge is bad . . . it is duplicitous because it is asking you to find them guilty of two offences in one charge and it is seeking to create an offence out of a section that does not have an offence,” Pilgrim argued.
He pointed out that the complainant was the Minister of Education, and asked whether the minister had delegated that authority to a public officer in writing, arguing if he had not done so “then charge will be bad”.
The prosecutor then said that he would need time to review the case in order to respond to the attorneys.
The matter was adjourned until October 28.