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Fiat Justitia or just a slow coach?

By Tony Deyal

 When I was a young man, the Merrymen of Barbados, led by Emile Straker, was the hit band of the Caribbean.  If you went to a “house” party you started the night with the Merrymen and ended it with Lost Indios Tabajaras.  First came “Big Big Bamboo” with its suggestive lyrics, then you hustled the girls, “The More The Merrier” actually, drank your rum until you were “Sweet For Days” and having found one that you could truly tell “You Sweeten Me Girl, Yes You Sweeten Me” you moved on to Los Indios.  

If by that time she had not yet promised to give you “Some Ting, Ting, Ting” or it turned out to be an aerated grapefruit juice, you settled into the body contact and slow grind of “Maria Elena” and “Always In My Heart.” By then dancing had indeed become the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.  

The Merrymen came out one year with “Archie Bruck Them Up” and it staggered Trinidad like an over-proof Mount Gay Eclipse Black.  Of course it did not remain intact for more than a split second as without a second thought, or even a second’s thought, the name became something that Trinidadians were more comfortable with.  

Unfortunately, the word which replaced it was one frowned upon by decent society as offensive and, even when misspelled by uneducated and ignorant youth with an “O” instead of a “U”, was deemed obscene and its use in the presence or hearing of an unenlightened policeman was subject to arrest, a subsequent fine and/or imprisonment. Such was the case with the young lady our leader “Rabbi” had nicknamed “The Mud”. 

In those days, despite becoming an independent nation, Trinidad was still colour-structured.  My neighbour whose nickname was “Ban” was light or “red” skinned.  Unfortunately, just as romance started shyly stirring, blooming and became manifest between Ban and a dark-skinned young lady from a nearby village, an award-winning documentary entitled “The Sky Above: The Mud Below”, shot in Dutch New Guinea featuring cannibals, head-hunters and pygmies, hit the cinema of our little town.  

Needless to say we all went to the movie because there was nothing else to see and the cinema was the only weekend recreation apart from men beating their wives or girlfriends or both.  Ban’s girlfriend’s features were similar to the New Guinea native ladies and so, noticing the resemblance, Rabbi dubbed her “The Mud” and the name stuck like cheap panty-hose on a hot day.

Jouvert (pronounced joo vay) is the start of the two-day Carnival, first in Trinidad and then exported to the rest of the region.  It is also called “fore-day-morning” mas since it starts just before dawn and continues until mid-morning.  It was while we were enjoying our joo-vay, chipping in slow, tired and increasingly drunken steps behind our neighbourhood steelband, Deltones, that the talk went through the band like a whiff of marijuana.  “Dey lock up Mud”. “Police hold The Mud”.  “Mud in de cell.”  

Now if you see an old acquaintance handcuffed and waiting for his moment in court to begin and you ask, “What happen boy?  Why they lock you up?” he would reply, “Dey say ah thief a cow” or “Dey say I beat ah man”.  It is never “I did this” or “I did that” it is always, “Dey say…”  It turned out that “dey say” The Mud was fined for the use of obscene language for shouting out at the top of her voice, drowning even the steelband, her version of what Archie did to “dem”.  

In Trinidad, another Archie, the Chief Justice, has made the headlines recently.  While he did not “bruck” up anyone or, in fact, inflict upon them any other version, pronunciation or variation of the word, what “dey say” he did is that he has kept people waiting for judgement and they are so bruck up about it that one, convicted of multiple murders, has initiated legal proceedings against the Chief Justice.

Since lawyers and other educated folk are nothing if not original, this has led to the frequent repetition of the cliché “Justice delayed is justice denied” and even suggestions that the salaries of judges who did not deliver their judgements in reasonable time should be withheld. 

According to a newspaper report, “convicted killer Lester Pitman initiated legal action against the continued failure of the Court of Appeal to deliver judgement in his appeal, which has been pending for four years. Pitman argued he has had to suffer breaches of his rights at the hands of the Supreme Court which was vested under the Constitution with the responsibility of the protection of those said rights.” Pitman argued, “Such a situation can only be but a rare event, at least one would hope so. Where, as in this case, the protector of our human rights has been responsible for their wanton disregard there could be no more blatant evidence that such actions amount to a breakdown of the rule of law and the fundamental pillars of our democracy.” Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Justices Paula Mae Weeks and Alice Yorke Soo-Hon presided over Pitman’s appeal and reserved judgment on March 4, 2010.

One judge has recommended to the National Constitution Reform Commission (NCRC) that judges who take too long to deliver their judgments should be punished.  She did not advocate removal of those laggards maybe because we might immediately experience a rash of vacancies on the Bench.  

In this case, a rush of judgements might be the equivalent of a rush to judgement.  A former Chief Justice has revealed that judges failing to deliver judgements in a timely fashion have “always been a problem.”

 A correspondent to the “Letters to the Editor” section of the same newspaper wrote, “Imagine the plight of the young taxi driver who was shot by a police officer whilst plying his taxi. He waited for over a decade (13 years to be exact) for his case to be completed. 

I’m certain that he could have done with the extra money to help take care of his family and medical bills. It is time to make our judges “feel the pinch”. People never learn or change their errant ways until you hit them where it hurts the most—in their pocket.”

Hitting them in their pockets might be a good idea but if I had to do it, especially to a Chief Justice, I would probably aim a bit higher.

• Tony Deyal was last seen repeating what the lady told the judge when he asked her why she hit her husband with a chair.  “It would have taken me too long to lift the table,” she said.

 
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