Wed | May 31, 2023

Orville Taylor | The judiciary should also apologise to Garvey

Published:Sunday | March 19, 2023 | 1:25 AM

Costa Rica, with little provocation, has just made our first national hero, Marcus Garvey, into an honorary citizen. We might have forgotten, but at 24 years old, he began his political and racial activism in Puerto Limon, in that country in 1911,...

Costa Rica, with little provocation, has just made our first national hero, Marcus Garvey, into an honorary citizen. We might have forgotten, but at 24 years old, he began his political and racial activism in Puerto Limon, in that country in 1911, a full three years before launching his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).

Another 18 years later, his own countrymen procured his conviction after, with senior lawyers in tow, the judiciary was so angry with him, for daring to criticise it; that he was shamelessly prosecuted for saying something, which today makes perfect sense. In his 1929 Manifesto of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), he sought a law to punish judges who act unfairly, and he backed this up with other similar public utterances. He called no judge by name or reference.

Flash forward to the 2010s and research coming from Transparency International, regarding the corruption perception index, demonstrated the difference between perception of corruption on the one hand an actual case of corruption on the other.

Doubtless we understand the grand narrative about police officers and indeed politicians. Some 88 per cent of Jamaicans were convinced that both were. Not surprisingly, there was a high level of confidence in the judiciary with around 75 per cent of Jamaicans believing that judges on the whole were fair.

Against the narrative though, only 12 per cent of Jamaicans reported personal knowledge of bribes paid to any cop.


Perhaps, assuming that utopia does exist somewhere on earth, and in little Jamaica in particular, the finding that six per cent of Jamaicans reported the personal knowledge of a bribe being paid to a member of the judiciary is still stuck in the gullets of the naïve and incredulous.

Not one single journalist, including my attorney colleagues in media, was willing to entertain this possibility. In fact, one was asking for ‘evidence’ as if this were a court of law, rather than social research. It should be noted that the same research instrument was used across more than 160 countries. For the record, six per cent is low by international standards, given that Americans reported 21 per cent and Britons 15 per cent. Thus, justifying the high degree of confidence that Jamaicans reported having in our judges. Nonetheless, confidence is not the same as being flawless or perfect.

It is important to make this distinction, because one of my good friends in the legal profession balked that my observations by reporting what the research said and my confidence in the research methodology, which is a hallmark of my profession, was causing some disquiet among our judges.

Yet interestingly, the very fact that there was this disquiet actually proves the point; because, if anyone in the judiciary, with the next best set of minds, behind academia, could have concluded that my analysis was a broadside against venality in this noble category, then the imperfection is evidence in itself. All human institutions are imperfect.

So, in the event that somewhere in my academic expression and analysis any other judge might form the opinion that I am saying that our judiciary is on the whole corrupt, let me completely disabuse her or him of that misconception.


Strangely, members of the legal fraternity themselves have implicitly raised the questions about the inability of judges to be fair. True, while it might not be the same as corruption, bias and prejudice are antithetical to justice and just as harmful to the individual seeking a fair trial.

Last week, at a forum hosted by Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, in tandem with the President of The Court of Appeal, and the Chief Parish Court Judge, Justice Sykes addressing the vexed issue of his preference for trial by judges (bench trials), versus jury trials, he reported the angst of some defence lawyers, over the fact that the majority of Jamaican judges came from the ranks of prosecutors.

It would, therefore, be a major indictment against the legal system. After all, is our female-dominated judiciary likely to ‘engender’ injustice, make ‘hysterical’ judgments and bring the bench into ‘infemy’?

Me, I have confidence that our judges know the law far more than any juror. Whatever a ‘peer’ might be. In any event, the data from the court sources indicate that judge trials result in higher rates of acquittal. Indeed behavioural scientists, especially those who understand how to manipulate groups, are fully aware of how easy it is to lead people to make judgment, even where the facts are in front of their eyes.

Judges, on the other hand, are not only trained, but they have guidelines which they know and took years to learn. These norms, even when swayed by the psychological techniques of the mind manipulator, still keep the majority of judges in check.

Thus, unlike jurors, Sykes is not as vulnerable to psyches.

So, in retrospect, the country whose people say ‘pura vida’ (pure life) in the same way we say ‘one love’, realise we made an error. Garvey’s expungement is not enough; the descendants of the judiciary, who wronged him for saying what current lawyers do, must also say, “ Lo sentemos, Marcus, disculpanos.” Sorry Marcus, forgive us!

- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to and