With few exceptions, my wife and I never miss Sunday breakfast on the verandah. Without exception, the Kaieteur News and Stabroek News are always there, lying next to our coffee cups. When I read the words quoted below of Ralph Ramkarran, I turned to my wife and said; “Did you read this?” She uttered; “What?” I responded; “Now Ralph Ramkarran is talking about high bail and unnecessary jail terms.” Here is the extract from Ramkarran’s commentary:
“The short-term tasks that can bring immediate relief are the substantial reduction of prisoners by modern, non-custodial, sentencing laws and policies for minor offences, a more creative policy with regard to bail…” This was taken from Ramkarran’s reflections on the prison fire. It followed Stabroek News’ editorial that echoed the same sentiments exactly a week ago. In commenting on the “eureka” outburst of the Stabroek News, I remarked that it took the fiery death of 17 prisoners in their locked cells before this newspaper could have seen the danger of high bail and unnecessary jail terms.
Now we have another “eureka” exclamation. This time from a prominent Attorney who was a former Speaker of the National Assembly and who does a weekly column. You go through the large body of opinions by Ramkarran and the Stabroek News and to find a denunciation of high bail and unnecessary custodial sentencing would be like finding a needle on the bottom on the ocean floor. But it will not end with Stabroek News and Ramkarran. As the Commission of Inquiry into the horrible jail inferno goes on, more persons and organizations will join the “eureka” bandwagon and call for a re-thinking of high bail and imprisonment for minor offences.
But beware, in this advocacy there will be an element of cowardice. No one is going to touch on the mediocrity of the magistracy. The Stabroek News editorial didn’t. Ramkarran didn’t. I don’t know why. In the case of the newspaper, maybe it felt it would not want to directly comment on the magistracy out of respect. With Ramkarran, he is a lawyer and has two sons that are lawyers and maybe some collegial sympathy was there. In the case of me, I am not a lawyer, so there cannot be any collegial feeling. I am a media operative whose views are expected to contain no sacred cows. We have Magistrates on the bench that should not be there.
We have had some terrible Magistrates, some of whom after dismissal couldn’t get a decent income. I remember one of them would appear drunk on the bench, tell the court his wife’s hassar curry is off the pot so he is going home to have it and he leaves court proceedings abruptly.
Another one found two youths not guilty of death by dangerous driving after they were accused of drag-racing on Vlissengen Road and slammed into two carpenters who were buried under the mud of the trench. The society was so enraged that he was peremptorily removed.
A West Coast Demerara Magistrate found five youths not guilty of multiple murders. They went on a killing spree during the crime syndrome of 2002-2005. One of them tried to sell the car of the taxi-driver that they stole after they stabbed him to death. One day I will tell you what fate did to that Magistrate. Yes, dear readers, fate can be a monster at times. Let’s get back to the “eureka” mystery of this dried, parched land of wilderness and jungle that God and time have abandoned. How many more of us, like the Stabroek News and Ralph Ramkarran, will jump up and say, “eureka, eureka”?
Should we not raise our voices on the danger facing us when ninety nine percent of vehicle owners use their high beams, thus blinding you on the road and death in a trench awaits you? Should this primitive land continue to arrest teenagers and very young men and put them in front of our dreaded Magistrates for the possession of a gram of weed? Do you know how much is a gram? Less than the tiny packet of Splenda you find at the coffee shop at any airport in the world, except Timehri and Ogle, which never seem have such packets. But then again, this is Guyana.
Let me end with some interesting news. Something unnerving is about to happen to me. Will write more about it. The float parade to celebrate 50 years of Independence may move off from UG Road very close to where I live. Do I have to watch at that? Can’t they take it elsewhere?
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