NASSAU, The Bahamas – President of the Court of Appeal, the Hon. Mrs. Justice Anita Allen says that the judiciary has been unfairly criticized by the local media. She urged media professionals to exercise due diligence before sending information out to the public. The judge made the appeal during a special sitting marking the Opening of the Legal Year 2016. The event was held at the Court of Appeal, Claughton House on Thursday, January 28, 2016.
Justice Allen said: “As we all know, the Executive and Legislative branches are constitutionally responsible for the peace, order and good governance of The Bahamas, and the Judiciary has the responsibility of interpreting and applying those laws and assuring, and protecting the rule of law. Unfortunately, however, yet again, the Judiciary begins the year under siege. It has been outrightly blamed for the spiraling of unprecedented level of crime and the exponential increase in the public’s fear of violence.”
She said that the Judiciary normally does not respond to criticism nor does it fear criticism, as it is the birthright of the citizenry of The Bahamas; however, she believes that if an entity is being unfairly attacked, ‘silence’ is not an option.
Quoting Lord Denning, Justice Allen said: ‘We do not fear criticism, nor do we resent it, for there is something far more important at stake: It is no less than freedom of speech itself. It is the right of every man, in Parliament, or out of it, in the press, or over broadcast, to make ‘fair’ comment, even outspoken comment, on matters of public interest. Those who comment can deal faithfully with all that is done in a court of Justice. They can say that we are mistaken, and our decisions erroneous whether they are subject to appeal or not… exposed we are to the winds of criticism: nothing which is said by this person, or nothing which is written by this pen, or that, will deter us from doing what we believe is right; nor I would add, from saying what the occasion requires, provided that it is pertinent to the matter in hand. Silence is not an option when things are ill done.”
Justice Allen pointed to several examples in recent times, where, she believes the media reported erroneous information. She said that instead of ‘heaping outright derision on the judiciary,’ the public might be better served if media would bring cases to the attention of the Attorney General’s office for them to determine whether to appeal.
She said that there is no question that in a democracy, the media has the important role of informing, educating and stimulating reflection on matters important to society, but she pointed out that this privilege must be exercised responsibly.
“With that privilege comes the responsibility to be accurate and fair,” she said. “To have commented without obtaining the whole of the facts and the judicial reasoning is not fair, and only serves to tarnish the judiciary’s image, widen the negative perception of the judiciary, and fuel discontent in the public.”
In attendance and bringing remarks during the ceremony was Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, the Hon. Allyson Maynard-Gibson, QC, who officially also opened the legal year. Remarks were also delivered by the Hon. Neville Smith, QC, on the Inner Bar, and by President of the Bahamas Bar Association, Elsworth Johnson, who brought observations on behalf of the Utter Bar.