There has been a long-held tradition, with possible legal consequences for the offending media house if breached, that we should refrain from commenting on matters that are before the courts and awaiting adjudication.
We hold fast to that standard because we believe a man or woman is innocent until proven guilty. That all should be done to allow a person to receive a fair trial, and not tarnish the public’s mind against an accused, thus weakening his chances of a fair trial.
Often referred to as sub judice, the Latin reference means a matter is being considered in a law court at the present time and should not be discussed in the public, as it may possibly undermine a fair outcome.
However, in pursuit of such ideals, the media and activists for worthwhile causes, can be hamstrung in their attempts to sensitize Barbadians about important issues, because these matters may be within the court system, a system that is painfully slow in its adjudication process.
Furthermore, some matters can even get lost in the process.
One such example was that of Winston Adolphus Agard who languished for almost a decade on remand at Her Majesty’s Prison, Dodds, without trial.
The accused man was allowed to go home on June 15, 2019 after pleading guilty to a theft charge first brought against him in March 2009.
Were it not for the actions of Prison Officer Floyd Downes, who brought the issue to the attention of presiding judge Justice Randall Worrell, that the man “fell through the cracks”, Agard might still be in Dodds.
Then, there has been the recent rape cases heard in the High Courts, that are many years old, and child victims are now full-grown adults, who are forced to relive the ordeals at a time when they should have been well along in the healing process.
Events too have been caught on camera that involved the actions of our law enforcement, that were worthy of discussion, interrogation and action by the administration of the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF).
But unlike the hundreds of thousands of Americans who took to the streets last year to protest injustices, and were protected by free speech laws, discussion on sometimes violent confrontations between law enforcement and persons in Barbados, are severely restricted because charges have been laid. Public commentary is barred until the matter is decided by our Courts.
We must always be watchful as a society to ensure that those who are empowered, by virtue of their positions in law enforcement, do not abuse that authority.
For when this occurs, the public’s confidence in law enforcement agencies may be eroded, and the fallout can be irreparable.
In the larger context of what occurred in the USA, and the Black Lives Matter movement, there has been an incessant demand for accountability.
With the killing of the unarmed man, George Floyd at the hands of those responsible for protecting and serving, there was a justified call for police reform.
While those calls for reform took place against a backdrop of racism and profiling of black people by law enforcement in the USA, they also gave us reason in Barbados to re-examine what is acceptable conduct by our law enforcement officers.
As a result of Floyd’s horrific, slow execution before our eyes, some states in the USA have introduced reforms, for example, that ban chokeholds and other neck restraints, and insist on the use of body cameras.
Some states now insist that chokeholds can only be legally used “when a person cannot be captured any other way” or if the officer “reasonably believes the person would use deadly force” against them.
Barbadians, for the most part, are law-abiding and our RBPF still enjoys a reasonable level of support and confidence among our people.
Conscious of the need for reform, plans were announced for the acquisition of body cameras for our police officers. It is a move that we support. We would also encourage the use of electronically recorded statements by accused persons and discourage the reliance on written confessions.
These written confessions as presently practised, have led to accusations that persons were forced to sign incriminating statements about crimes, under duress and threat of physical harm.
With our Police Force’s numbers impacted by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the administration of the RBPF relying more on groups such as the Barbados Defence Force and Island Constables, Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith, must insist that all interactions with the public, be humane and of the standard expected in a civilized society.
We praise the RBPF for seeking to enforce all our laws.
However, considering the COVID-19 situation, we submit that a greater zeal for enforcement of our laws relating to mask-wearing and social distancing be employed across the country and not in specific places.
For instance, we suggest that a RBPF team be dispatched to Farley Hill, St Peter and surrounding districts, where the peace and tranquility are disturbed for hours on end, each weekend by bands of noisy, mask-less men and women in modified cars, and on motorbikes, and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), who frequently pose a threat to the safety of other road users as they carry out their gravity defying manoeuvres.
Participants in these activities often socialize, appearing to have little regard for the COVID-19 pandemic and the risks they pose to themselves and others, they will likely come into contact with, in their homes or workplaces.