Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.(iWN file photo)

By Jomo Sanga Thomas*

(“Plain Talk”, Dec. 13, 2019)

A commitment to stand on the side of the poor and marginalised, the downtrodden and despised, for unpopular causes and against the privileged and powerful, is always hazardous business. Far too often, your stance is mischaracterised and pilloried. Attacks on the advocate’s character and beliefs become the stock for those against whom the advocate stands. Even sections of the population whom the advocate defends and some who know better join in the campaign of assassination and alienation.

But progressive advocacy is akin to a life sentence proudly served because the change agent knows deep in his heart that the causes she champions are just. Even though success is few and far between, and perils lurk around every corner, and the powers that be imagine your fall by his hand, on his sword, the advocate pushes on with the commitment that comes from what Craig Hedges calls “sublime madness”. A feeling that you have gone too far to turn back. One can, therefore, only embrace the mantra: Never give up, never give in.

And so, the announcement this week that St. Vincent and the Grenadines will get a second permanent, criminal court is welcome news that is long overdue. It is a position that Plain Talk has constantly called. A view outlined in columns and on radio that “Justice in SVG has Two Faces”. Evidently, this long campaign is finally paying dividend. We claim no exclusive credit for the coming of the court. Had it not been for frequent calls for prisoners’ rights, justice and the rule of law this announcement might have had to wait for another time. Far more respected persons like Justice Adrian Saunders, who sounded the alarm and declared that the criminal justice system in the Caribbean was broken, must take even more credit.

There is a huge backlog in criminal cases. Defendants wait for far too many years for their day in court. This delay amounts to a vicious assault on the liberty of prisons, due process and speedy trial rights of the accused.

For example, if a well-behaved man, accused of murder, waits six years before being tried, and at his trial pleas guilty for manslaughter and is sentenced to nine years in jail, he gets no credit for the time he has languished in prison.  Had he been tried and sentenced shortly after arrest and sentenced to nine years, with the prison credit he would have left in six years. When he waits six years for trial and is sentenced to nine years, that prisoner ends up spending a total of eight years in prison because the sentencing judge only credits the convicted man with the remand time, which is six years.

The magistracy is also under stress. Kingstown Magistrate Court is without a magistrate. Because Magistrate Burnett has been called to higher duty as a master, cases are heard in the Serious Offences Court more like a conveyor belt sideshow.

Earlier in the year, cases were postponed for more than five months, with serious repercussions especially for persons on remand. Some of these persons spent more time locked down because of administrative neglect than if they were promptly tried and sentenced. Some, whose offense carried no jail time, lost their liberty for months because they were unable to make bail and there was no magistrate to try their cases.

There is a clear bias for the rights of the privileged in SVG. There are two judges and a master attending to civil matters and only one criminal court judge. This may be because criminal justice is taken seriously only to the extent that presumed bad persons are arrested and jailed. The clear bias reflects a preference for property rights over liberty. But as Harry Belafonte once told Fidel Castro, “show me the conditions in your prisons and I will tell you about your country”. Therefore, the pending opening of an additional criminal court is welcomed news that may help to ease the serious overcrowding in our prisons. So much for advocacy.

Advocates never know if or when their ideas will take hold. They simply plod on with the hope that someone somewhere will be attracted to the idea and turn it into meaningful policy. Marx did say that ideas become a material force when they grip the masses.

We watch with amazement when “fringe” ideas go mainstream.

The idea that government must refrain from selling lands to foreigners and instead get the foreign business developer to offer locals an equity share was floated during the proposed construction of the Buccama Resort. Mitchell’s NDP callous give away of Canouan was criticised and the equity share concept was also raised when the developers proposed new projects including a marina there. Plain Talk was again criticised for making the equity argument. It was said that we were against foreign direct investment. We were pleasantly surprised when a high government official embraced the idea and disclosed that instead of selling priced land government decided to do an equity swap arrangement with the same Canouan developers.

During the last elections, the fringe idea to marry idle hands with idle lands was proposed as a way not only to revive agriculture, but to also ensure that the younger generation gain an appreciation through hands on experience that there is a good living to be made from the lands. The average age of our farmers is about 50. While this proposal never gained acceptance by the government, opposition politician St. Clair Leacock has given it “legs”.

There is also the proposal to retrofit and turn the unused vegetable market into a modern Hall of Justice. The structure is large and can house the Magistrate Court, Serious Offenses court, High Court (Civil and Criminal divisions), Appeal Court and the Registrar’s Office. Most of these courts are in rented property, and huge sums could be saved in the coming years.  Our proposal was criticised, with a stream of obscenities, by a government minister whose idea was for the market be transformed into a mall.

Queen’s Counsel Parnell Campbell thought it was an excellent idea, but there were no takers. A few weeks ago, the pro-government radio programme “Issue at Hand”, anchored by Cecil Ryan, seems to be warming to the idea. May government be next.

Cruise Ship terminal at Campden Park anyone? SVG must become a free market place of ideas if we are to develop.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. 

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

9 replies on “The perils of advocacy”

  1. Jomo I don’t think any one is against your advocacy with respect to the down trodden in society. However, your stands which respect to the gay community is mind boggling. You want to turn Vince into a Buller man state and this would not be acceptable to the average Vincentian. Leave us alone.

  2. Rawlston Pompey says:

    POPULAR FAD – UNPOPULAR CAUSES – SUBLIME MADNESS

    Though other issues have been written in this ‘…Plain Talk’ opinion, this response is confined to the line ‘…Never Give up – Never Give in.’

    The distinguished and well learned attorney Jomo Thomas, knows where ‘…hazards business’ to the advocate lies.

    It is most certainly not because an attorney has advocated for the;

    (a) …The poor and marginalized;

    (b) …Downtrodden and despised; and

    (c) …Privileged and powerful’ [Opening paragraph].

    The author knows very well that some of his distinguished practicing colleagues in the persona of ‘…Grant Connell; …Israel Bruce; and Kay Bacchus-Baptiste’ have all represented the ‘…poor, downtrodden and powerful.’

    They have either rendered their services for legal fees or rendered their services ‘…pro bono’ to the financially-depressed litigants.

    These attorneys, and many others appeared never to have considered their services or advocacy ‘…hazardous business.’

    What he appeared to have done with fox- like cunningness, was to surround ‘…Unpopular causes’ with these.

    Advocacy for ‘…Unpopular Causes’ and the line, ‘…Never Give up and Never Give in’ would always be ‘…Problematic and Perilous’ to the attorney who practices and touts ‘…Commitment that comes from the ‘…Craig Hedges calls ‘…Sublime Madness’ [Paragraph 2: Niebuhr’s: Moral Man – Immoral Society].

    He was very careful not to make references to those who, through litigations, would wish to change ‘…social mores, norms of male/female relationships or unions duly solemnized by Church marriages’ as anointed by God in Christian societies.

    Even though ‘homosexuality’ is now seen as a ‘…Popular Fad’ spreading across the globe, most people, (including St. Vincent and the Grenadines) ‘…loathe and rebuff’ anything that not only’… scripturally abominable,’ but also might be seen as deceptively termed ‘…Unpopular Causes.’

    This is particularly so, if it involves ‘…Same-sex relationship, union and abnormal sexual activities,’ advocacy of which an attorney may litigiously undertake.

    No need to cry foul or ‘…hazard.’

  3. Straight, yo may be a closet gay yourself, the need to identify gay support may be to hide your own nasty buller habits. Everyone in the world has the right, even if not granted such, to be represented by a confident and professional legal representative. Jomo should not be attacked for representing someone regardless of who they are or for what purpose they are before a Court.

    You are either a homophobic mental case, or a closet gay, difficult to tell from this distance, but I am not getting any closer to find out. You describe yourself as an average Vincentian, perhaps, there are more lesbians and buller men to the square mile in SVG than any other Caribbean island. Ask Ralph, he has employed one or two of them.

  4. There are things I do not like about Jomo and there are things I do like. I am glad he wrote this so we see why he advocates the cases he does. I did not like the mistake Jomo made on the no confidence vote but other than that he has been an excellent speaker of the house. Both parties have witnessed his fairness. Jomo is also no coward. With this gay issue in this election year, the other political people are all playing Pontis Pilate, including our Prime Minister. I admire that he takes a stand even though the vast majority are against it. For my part I do not think homosexuality should be promoted (encouraged), (Obama style) nor do I think anyone’s rights should be taken from them as long as they are not hurting others. I do not think homosexuals act that way out of choice. They can do as they wish in thier own privacy as long as it does not interfere with me. Jomo sure makes an impact on society, maybe good and negative, depending on one’s perspective.

  5. I forgot to add that it is good Jomo has pressed the issue of the terrible structure of the courts. Maybe he will one day wake-up to change his attitude about his poverty-producing socialist economics, or does he think things are just fine in SVG?

  6. I disagree with most of Jomo’s proposals but at least he can recognize when there are problems. His proposals about the court system are certainly worth looking at. His ideas about vendors is not good.
    I propose that our government instead look at why we have so many vendors.
    I like and admire the vendors but I hate all the vending!
    Vendors are a form of entrepreneurs seeking opportunity in a country where government policy seeks to KILL opportunity. Vendors are not robing our homes, they are only clogging up all areas people wish to walk, often forcing us to walk in the streets as they clog the sidewalks.
    Many people comment that people complain but never propose solutions. Jomo proposes solutions. Some are good and many are not.
    I propose that government encourage OPPORTUNITY in SVG by lowering Corporate tax to 21% or lower, where it should be! Lower most all Customs Duties, especially on production machines that craft products we COULD be producing. At present a person can go through lots of paperwork and get 75% off the duties on items that should have almost no duty to start with. 75% off of duty that is way, way, way too high is still WAY TOO HIGH, not to mention all the days of paperwork and 100.$ to pay a Customs Broker. Go to Singapore and the duties for most things are around 6% and the paperwork takes minutes!!! In SVG it is opposite! One of the reasons why they are rich and we stay poor.

    I suggest the government adopt a different attitude:
    Government should instead strive to create an environment where…

    Poverty is impossible and prosperity becomes inevitable

    Instead we do the opposite and Street Vendor will remain the industry of choice for the honest and hard-working and , prostitution and thievery will remain the second industries of choice for those finding no other options.
    Lower our high duties and business taxes to attract investment and government can carefully select which industries are best for the country and people.

    1. With all due respect Duke they can’t do the maths. In other words, they can’t understand what you are talking about. And, they can’t do the actual maths.

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