The public’s right to know!!!

THE NEW TODAY is calling on the Chief Justice of the OECS Supreme Court to set guidelines to be followed by judicial officials with respect to the right of the press to cover all court proceedings.

This newspaper is making the plea to the Chief Justice in light of what appears to be a difference in approaches by persons in charge of the law courts in Grenada.

The situation is quite confusing as some of these individuals are seemingly operating in isolation of each other.

It’s a simple case of the left hand doing one thing and the right hand doing something totally different.

The Chief Magistrate, Tamara Gill is always accommodating members of the media in her court and no one can point any fingers at her in terms of keeping out journalists from covering matters brought before her court.

It is clear to us that the Chief Magistrate understands and subscribes to the principle that exist in a modern and democratic society that the public has a right to know and be informed of what is taking place in their law courts.

However, the same cannot be said of some other Magistrates. This past week, a reporter from this newspaper was virtually prevented from taking notes in a court that was hearing a drug-related case.

The sitting Magistrate seemingly held the view that the discretion lies solely with her to allow or prevent reporters from taking notes in her court.

And the Police Prosecution is of a similar view on the grounds that there is no law that gives the media the right to cover matters in a court house.

THE NEW TODAY would think that Grenada is slowly returning to the dark days of the 1979-83 era of the Marxist People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) when press freedom was severely curtailed and the leftwingers in charge of the State used to outlaw newspapers and imprison freedom-minded and independent journalists.

The PRG leaders did this and much more but at least were smart enough not to ban journalists from covering court proceedings because the outside world was closely monitoring events in the Tri-island State.

Our Magistrates over the years, especially Justice Lyle St. Paul who in later years was elevated to a judgeship was perhaps the most accommodating with reporters inside his court.

St. Paul J was probably at his best whenever journalists were inside his court to cover proceedings. He often took the opportunity to make far-reaching and very fundamental statements on matters of national importance that he wanted to bring to the attention of the authorities and the wider public.

A favourite line from Justice St. Paul was that he was totally fed-up with the Police only bringing before his court the “small fishes” involved in the drug trade and it was time to start catching the “big fishes” and bring them to justice.

So why 30 years later would any member of the Judiciary not want to be accommodating of members of the press to cover matters brought before his or her court?

THE NEW TODAY repeats that the public has a right to know and the press ought to be accommodated as far as possible in covering court proceedings.

Even our Parliament – the highest decision-making body in Grenada, Carriacou & Petite Martinique – makes special provisions for the various media houses in the country to provide coverage of the people’s business in the Houses of Representatives.

It boggles the mind as to why some members of the Judiciary who should be taking their cue from the nation’s law-making body would adopt a different approach and seek to limit the press from covering matters of a public interest that are brought in the court?

It should be noted that recently in neighbouring Trinidad & Tobago, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) did not impose a ban on the media from providing coverage of the high profile murder case involving a senior lawyer but choose to remind the media of their responsibility to provide free, fair and impartial coverage so as to not jeopardise the case.

There might be no law on the statute books that gives the media the right to cover court proceedings that a civilized society recognises the right of the public to be informed and their right to know what is happening in the world around them.

Several countries have passed the Freedom of Information Act that makes it mandatory for public officials including governmental leaders and other public officials to make full disclosure of information to the media within a prescribed timeframe.

If a Magistrate uses his or her powers to enforce a ban on reporters from not tasking notes in their quest to cover court proceedings this would undoubtedly put the individual journalist at a tremendous disadvantage of relying solely on memory to remember what transpired in court.

How then do you expect members of the Fourth Estate to produce at all times credible and reliable information to the public of matters heard in the courts?

There must be some kind of intervention at a higher level possibly the Chief Justice, Minister of Legal Affairs, Attorney-General, Director of Public Prosecutions and even the Grenada Bar Association to bring some kind of sense of good reasoning to prevail on this important issue – all in the public interest and the right of the public to be informed at all times.

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