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Right to fair trial must not be sacrificed for ratings- Justice Vicki Ann Ellis tells media

- claims judiciary is not seeking to muzzle the press
Resident Judge, Her Ladyship the Honourable Madam Justice Vicki Ann Ellis has called on media house to play a stronger role in protecting the judiciary, noting that an individual's right to a fair trial should not be sacrificed for commercial success and ratings. Photo: VINO/File
Senior Magistrate Tamia N. Richards challenged President of the BVI Bar Association Ms Jacqueline Daley to be the first president to step forward out of the shadows in the defense of the judiciary. Photo: VINO/File
Senior Magistrate Tamia N. Richards challenged President of the BVI Bar Association Ms Jacqueline Daley to be the first president to step forward out of the shadows in the defense of the judiciary. Photo: VINO/File
Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Wayne Rajbansie. Photo: VINO/File
Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Wayne Rajbansie. Photo: VINO/File
Senior Queen Counsel and former Attorney General R. Dancia Penn QC, OBE had come to the defense of media houses when they were summoned in the High Court of Justice (Criminal Division) on July 24, 2015. Photo: VINO/File
Senior Queen Counsel and former Attorney General R. Dancia Penn QC, OBE had come to the defense of media houses when they were summoned in the High Court of Justice (Criminal Division) on July 24, 2015. Photo: VINO/File
ROAD TOWN, Tortola, VI – Senior Magistrate Ms Tamia N. Richards and Justice Vicki Ann Ellis earlier today, September 17, 2015, challenged the media and online bloggers to be conscious of their responsibilities in protecting the judicial systems.

This call was made at the official opening of the Law Year 2015 – 2016 at a special sitting of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.

The media was thrown in the spotlight firstly by Senior Magistrate Richards who, in her brief remarks, referred to the magistracy as the outside child of the judiciary which has been looking in through the window for some time now.

Stating that she was at the time piggy backing on what the Honourable Attorney General Baba Aziz had said about the press, Ms Richards noted, “We accept and recognise that a free and independent press is vital to any democracy, however, that does not give the press and those who blog the right to defame others and publish articles that bring the judiciary and judicial officers into disrepute.”

According to Ms Richards, at an OECS Conference that she had attended, the Madam Chief Justice Janice M. Pereira had explained that Bar Associations must do more to support the judiciary, judges and magistrates from unjust criticisms.

“They must not remain silent on these issues as by their silence they allow the misconceptions about the judiciary to take root and to fester [and] these things undermine the judiciary,” said Ms Richards.

The Senior Magistrate then made the call for President of the BVI Bar Association Ms Jacqueline Daley to be the first president to step forward out of the shadows in defense of the judiciary.

Not trying to muzzle the press

Ms Richards’ concerns as it relates to the media was supported by Resident Judge, Her Ladyship the Honourable Madam Justice Vicki Ann Ellis who was very foremost in acknowledging the important role played by the media but said she trusts that in the coming law term, “We can rely on the relevant press agencies to be conscious of the power which they yield and the need to discharge their functions in a responsible and professional manner.”

Justice Ellis made it abundantly clear that the court is not interested in limiting press freedom but said that in circumstances “there is a clear need for self-regulation.”

She appealed, “We urge you to be mindful and ensure that the individual’s right to a fair trial is not sacrificed on the altar of commercial success and ratings and sadly we must also use this opportunity to learn from our deficiencies and to set new directions for the future.”

Slippery slope

It was in July 2015 that the summoning of media houses by the High Court was blasted by Senior Queen Counsel and former Attorney General R. Dancia Penn QC, OBE who labelled it as a breach of natural justice.

The editors of various news companies in the Virgin Islands including BVI News, Island Sun, BVI Beacon, Virgin Islands News Online and BVI Platinum News were summoned to appear in the High Court of Justice (Criminal Division) on July 24, 2015.

The ‘Summons to Defendants’ did not state who was the Complainant and what the Complaint was exactly about.

According to the Summons issued to Virgin Islands News Online, “Complaint has been made IN THE MATTER OF ALL CRIMINAL CASES BEFORE THE COURT, THAT all commentaries on articles on various websites shall be disabled for all matters under the court’s consideration until the final determination of matters.

According to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Wayne Rajbansie, the matter was not an adversarial proceeding as it was merely a dialogue among persons who were deemed important to the criminal justice system because they dispense to the general and wider public information that occurs within the court.

The DPP also used the opportunity to chide certain media houses for allowing blogs from persons commenting that certain cases were a waste of time.

Highly disturbing

Meanwhile, Mrs Penn had turned up in court on behalf of the Island Sun, and after listening to the judge, some reporters and the DPP, said she found the matter highly disturbing and that it seriously calls for concern.

Noting that she is in full support of the attempts of the court to impress upon responsible journalism from the media, Mrs Penn said her concern was with the process in which it was being done.

“I can see as a lawyer that we are on a slippery slope and it is a slope that we should get off...There are objective problems with this process because what has happened here is that people have been brought before the court in a criminal matter, irrespective of what the DDP said. It is a criminal proceeding, brought before the jurisdiction of the criminal court on a summons.”

Mrs Penn said persons cannot be called before the court, irrespective of who they are, without being told what the nature of the complaint is. “They didn’t not know who the Complainant was, they did not know what the Complaint was. They did not know what the particulars were. These are fundamentals of natural justice and that is part of why I am convinced we are going down a slippery slope.”

In an emotional tone, the senior and respected legal practitioner said the men and women of the media should not have been brought to the court on a summons of this nature and subjected to what she thought was “quite a tirade” on them.

“I think it was a tirade. We have to be very vigilant about how we handle these things,” submitted Mrs Penn who disclosed that she was also concerned that it was only the DPP prosecutors and the court against the media and had it not been for the Island Sun she would not have been in court to say anything on such an important issue.

“Matters of this kind should also involve the Attorney General,” Mrs Penn further advised.

However, Justice Nicole Byer had said the summons was only done to ensure that all the media houses attended to hear the concerns of the court and also reiterated that the matter was not an adversarial one.

See link below to related story.

http://www.virginislandsnewsonline.com/en/news/summons-to-media-was-breach-of-natural-justice-r-dancia-penn-qc-obe

6 Responses to “Right to fair trial must not be sacrificed for ratings- Justice Vicki Ann Ellis tells media”

  • no more contracts (17/09/2015, 16:12) Like (7) Dislike (1) Reply
    The DPP MUST GO!
  • insider (17/09/2015, 16:16) Like (4) Dislike (2) Reply

    looking QC but will never get it...to badminded

  • well sa (17/09/2015, 20:54) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    Everybody want to just censor the media
  • wize up (17/09/2015, 21:12) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    have this woman ever tuned in and listen to Nacy Grace on HLN: I thought that trials were set before a judge and jury and to imply that the media can define the outcome of a given judicial proceedings is simple minded: all my life I thought that judgments were determined by the presentation of facts during a given matter.....
    • ... (18/09/2015, 19:23) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
      That is Satan's system - why muzzle the press and the people who wants to blog. Clearly, something wrong with the judicial system in place. Jurors are supposedly mature adults with minds of their own.


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