Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A Red Letter Day

"Two Jersey politicians have lost a court battle to prevent the media running a story about them. Deputies Trevor and Shona Pitman claimed an article the Jersey Evening Post wanted to publish would hamper a legal battle they're fighting with the paper. But late this afternoon a judge decided that wasn't the case and lifted a temporary ban on running the story. Recently the Pitmans unsuccessfully tried to sue the paper for libel. They're now trying to appeal." (CTV)

It is difficult to know what to make of this. It could easily be an attempt to embarrass the Pitmans by means of an attack on parties involved in the libel case, in which case it would have been the work of some of the less rational enemies of the Deputy Trevor Pitman. There are online some less than rational critics who seem to delight in only making abusive comments about the Deputy.

He seems to have rather a knack of making enemies with his somewhat pugilistic manner. Almost anyone who disagrees with him rouses his ire, and it is clearly his preferred way of deflecting any criticism of his own position to hit back hard.

But the letter could come from his own supporters. It could be a case like that of King Henry and Thomas Becket. A chance remark by the King is used by four Knights as an excuse and incentive to hunt down and murder Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. It is not what the King intended, and he is mortified by the result. But the four Knights think they are acting on his behalf, and in T.S. Eliot's version, "Murder in the Cathedral", they are also slightly tipsy, their judgment impaired.

So could it be emanating from some of Deputy Pitman's supporters? Deputy Pitman is adamant that is not the case.

"I wasn't a suspect in being behind this. Shona was not a suspect in being behind this. Indeed, contrary to the JEP claims the Police confirmed there was also absolutely no evidence or credible suggestion that the 'letter' (more on that in a minute, honest!) must have 'clearly' emanated from what Sibcy called 'our supporters' at all!"

But his own message, loud and clear from his blog, is that Jersey has a corrupt judiciary, and he comments on "what can only be described as abuses (both corruption and lack of the necessary diligence) within the Criminal Justice and Legal Systems" and describes Jersey as a "Flying banana republic", asking "Just how much longer can the UK afford not to step in and take action on the abuses of process rife within Jersey 'justice'?"

I think it is unlikely that would be sufficient to suggest to fringe supporters that arson threats would be a good thing, but hyperbole of this nature does not engender respect for due process of law. He may not have said anything about arson attacks, but his remarks about failing to finding justice within the system could well be taken as incendiary.

On balance, I agree with Deputy Pitman that it is in all likelihood a malicious prank. It is ill-thought out, conceived by one or two people who don't like him, probably after a heavy drinking bout. It has the feel of something devised on the back of a beer mat, without much thought of consequences. The note which we have now seen published is hastily scrawled in block letters.

Because it is out in the open, it will of course mean that should they lose their appeal, the Pitmans can always claim that it has biased the proceedings. It is perhaps, one of the reasons why the recent change in the law to allow Guernsey Jurats to sit on the Jersey bench is a good thing, and it would certainly be a good move to see that cases of this sort, where the matters in hand are common Island gossip, look to use Guernsey Jurats instead of local ones, and avoid any perception of bias which comes in a close-knit community where people know one another (which is clearly the case with one Jurat and a JEP director). Indeed, it was partly for reasons of potential bias in general that the change in the law was made.

In an 1846 report in "The Times", it was stated of a case in the Royal Court that "It is a farce to suppose that the jurors will enter the seat of justice with their minds unprejudiced against the unhappy defendant. Instead of making the jurors strain their eyes over dozens of pages of lawyers folios, it would be much more rational to hand them a copy or two of the Jersey Times - the whole evidence against the ill-dated defendant has already been published in that journal."

The problem of bias is no less acute today, and ensuring that appeal judges are from outside Jersey - and who have no knowledge of the case in the local press  -would certainly show that any potential for bias was being treated seriously. I think in fairness to the Deputy, if possible, that should be considered. I'm not as convinced as the Deputy that their case is nearly as watertight as he does, but they should surely be given the best possible chance to make it.

No comments: