The case against a Rastafarian couple who had been found guilty of failing to send their children to school took a dramatic twist today when Magistrate Douglas Frederick allowed them to walk free.
Charles Ijui Jah Lashley and his partner Kim Isartes Ibre Jackman reported to the District ‘A’ Magistrates’ Court today to be sentenced, after they were found guilty last month of violating 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 12 — ever attending formal classes.
Instead, a request by the prosecution to add the dates “between 1st day of September, 2008 and 5th day of February, 2016,” in the case of the boy and “between the 1st day of September, 2011 and 5th of February, 2016,” in the case of the girl, to the offences led to the magistrate throwing out the case.
The request was met with consternation by the couple’s lead attorney Andrew Pilgrim, QC, who, despite the protestations of prosecutor Sergeant Neville Watson, argued it was a new charge altogether and should be dismissed.
“At this stage I am flabbergasted by this application . . . . As I understand it the Crown was happy to run a prosecution against accused persons with a charge that did not even have a date . . . and now they are happy to change their charge sheet I assume, to match the evidence that you [the magistrate] heard. This is a whole new charge,” Pilgrim told the magistrate.
The senior attorney-at-law described the submission as “primary school nonsense and absolute garbage,” on the grounds that the prosecution was creating an offence against his clients spanning an eight-year period in relation to a 12-year-old child.
“These are truly unique circumstances. These people are already found guilty . . . he is changing the dates . . . [saying] to the court and to the public . . . there can be no injustice flowing from this? Well, what a dark day we have reached . . . .We are saying that multiple prejudices can occur [with this amendment],” the lawyer said.
After considering the submissions the magistrate agreed with some of the arguments of the defence, stressing the issue was about the children and that the parents had not kept them home “due to any malice”.
“When we heard all the evidence, these two people did not fail to register their children in a school . . . due to any malice. There is no evidence of that. In fact, they have some philosophical belief that the system will contaminate their children, so they have withheld them from that school environment,” the magistrate explained before dismissing the case.
The smiling parents later exited No. 1 Court with Lashley telling the media that justice had prevailed.
“Praises be to Rastarfari Jah Holy faith, for Jah continuous guidance, oversight and protection of his children,” Lashley said, adding that he would be making formal application for the children to be homeschooled.
One of their lawyers, Ajamu Boardi also told Barbados TODAY the family was elated with the verdict.
“I think it is a just result. I don’t think there was really ever a charge there, so I think it is great that the court recognize that.”
Despite today’s verdict, the parents continue to face the possibility of having their children taken from them.
The High Court will on December 13 decide whether it will hear a case brought by the Child Care Board (CCB), which is seeking to make the children wards of the court.
The children’s attorney Douglas Trotman said he was hopeful that the judge would rule in the parents’ favour.
Similar feelings were expressed by supporters of the couple who have considered the entire episode unnecessary.
Noted calypsonian and Rastafarian Adonijah has been among the couple’s most vocal supporters, making his position on the case known on social media.
The veteran artiste told Barbados TODAY he was pleased with today’s outcome and he was looking forward to a similar result next month in “this ridiculous case” by the Child Care Board.
“I cannot for the life of me understand why the Child Care Board would have been seeking to separate a family where there isn’t even the slightest bit of suspicion of abuse or ill treatment. The only issue is an educational one which is being worked out,” he said, describing the CCB’s intervention as “ an unjustifiable attempt to rip some innocent children from the bosoms of a loving family”.
Another prominent supporter, Executive Director of the Pinelands Creative Workshop Rodney Grant, was relieved when he got news of the dismissal. Still, the pending hearing worried him.
“The only thing that they would find disfavour with is the fact that they kept the child home and schooled in the house,” Grant argued.
The social activist contended that while the focus should be on mending families, the child protection agency was seeking to tear this one apart.
“You are moving a child away from a situation where they seemingly have all the moral standards . . . to put them into what? Out there in a society where we seem to be losing the battle with?”
Grant also recommended that the CCB should work with the family in search of a more amicable solution.
“We got to look for more reasonable solutions, rather than being so extreme,” he concluded.