LEGAL EAGLE: Respecting our fundamental rights

January 09, 2017
Pastor Rupert Clarke being led from the St Elizabeth Parish Court earlier this month after appearing on a charge of having sex with a minor. Also seen in the picture is Heather Murray, who was present at the hearing.

The news from St Elizabeth last week that a 64-year-old pastor, Rupert Clarke, was charged under the Sexual Offences Act with having sex with a minor, a girl under the age of 16, is horrifying.

But comments on social media and elsewhere raised many other important issues.

Just to be clear, since Clarke is charged and placed before the court, the matter is expected to proceed to committal proceedings and possibly trial in the Circuit Court.

If the case goes to trial, a jury of his peers will decide his guilt or innocence based on the evidence presented in court and the directions in law given by the presiding judge.

These matters are usually tried in-camera [without the public being present] and so the media will not be present or be permitted to publish evidence of the trial.

Thus, at the end, what the public will know is whether or not Clarke is guilty and, if so, the sentence imposed by the judge.

It is also reported that Heather Murray, a principal of a prominent high school in the parish, attended the bail hearing in the parish court.

In social media and elsewhere, the principal was harshly criticised; and some even called on her to resign.

This response from sections of the public, including People's National Party councillor Kari Douglas, is troubling and raises issues as to the respect that must be shown for the principal's fundamental right to peaceful assembly and association as provided for in our Constitution.

While the optics of the principal sitting in a courtroom to allegedly provide support to an accuser of a sexual offence might not look good, the principal, like any Jamaican citizen, has a right to enter a court that is open to the public and listen to the proceedings without having to give any explanation to anyone.

The principal has nothing to answer to or apologise for. Councillor Douglas is clearly out of order and is showing scant regard for the laws of Jamaica.

At this stage, Clarke is deemed to be innocent until proven guilty. He should not be condemned just yet. The public should await the jury's verdict.

It is also reported that the principal blocked a photographer who was trying to take a picture of the accused man.

If true, this is commendable in that she might have saved the photographer from prosecution, as the law is clear that persons in custody must not be photographed within the precincts of the court.

Going forward, it might be wise for councillor Douglas and others to show greater respect for the rights of others and the laws of Jamaica. We should all wait on the jury's verdict.

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