“We Have Entered The Slippery Slope, I Cannot Remain Silent” – Zhinga Horne Edwards

Dear Editor,

“I, [name], do solemnly and sincerely swear/affirm that I would demean myself in the practice as a Barrister-at-law and Solicitor in the State of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.”  This is the oath that is taken before a person is called to the Bar of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  In this context, “demean” means to conduct oneself in a proper manner.

While the oath is not a promise of moral perfection, it is an undertaking to adhere to the ethical standards of the profession and ought not to be taken lightly.  I daresay, those ethical principles ought to permeate every part of a lawyer’s life, professional, business and personal, otherwise the reputation of the lawyer and the legal profession as a whole are compromised.

Indeed, according to the OECS Bar Association’s Code of Ethics “[a] barrister, solicitor or attorney-at-law (hereinafter “Attorney-at-law”) shall observe the rules of this code, maintain his integrity and the honour and dignity of the legal profession, and encourage other attorneys-at-law to act similarly both in the practice of his profession and in his private life, and shall refrain from conduct which is detrimental to the profession or which may tend to discredit it”.

Irrespective of membership of a bar association at the local, regional or international level, that rule expresses the overarching ethical standard to which all lawyers should adhere.  As an officer of the Court and a representative of clients, a lawyer has a responsibility to ensure that justice is upheld and the integrity of the legal system preserved.  It is therefore the expectation that every barrister will strive to attain ethical ideals.

It is therefore with disbelief and dismissiveness that I first regarded the stories of colleagues alleged to have been involved in conduct which appears to be, not just brutish but criminal in nature.  The story seemed farfetched and, initially, I gave it no credence whatsoever.  As the days passed, however, and the Police confirmed that they had received reports of the alleged incident occurring involving colleagues, my response changed from disbelief to astonishment.

The allegations are particularly serious.  If there is any truth to them, the conduct, by any standard, is reprehensible and is a stain not only on the character and reputation of the professionals involved but also on the legal fraternity in general.  As a member of this, still, noble profession, I cannot remain silent.

I must make it clear that it is not just the alleged conduct that is troubling to me.  The absence of any press release by the Police in the immediate aftermath of the subject incident and the apparent disparity between the treatment by the Police of those alleged to have been involved in this incident and others involved in non-violent conduct in this country deeply offend my sense of fairness and justice.   Why wasn’t this incident worthy of a timely statement by the Police? What made the non-violent conduct of other citizens, such as Desron Rodriguez and Vynnette Frederick, warrant the use of armed police officers in their cases, while the alleged conduct of those involved in the subject incident did not?  These unanswered questions cannot be left unanswered, but must be fully addressed by those at the highest levels of authority.  Issuing a belated statement on the incident does not suffice.  The public is also entitled to know why one was not issued at the outset and whether enquiries were being carried out in the two-week period immediately following the alleged incident.  Without open and transparent responses, confidence in the rule of law in St. Vincent and the Grenadines will be seriously undermined.

And what of the lawyers implicated?  They too have their part to play in upholding the rule of law, despite the alleged inglorious events of their immediate past.

Without question, their implication in the alleged acts of violence have compromised public confidence in their integrity and in their ability to carry out the duties of their respective positions.  In this regard, they should not wait to be asked to step aside.  Their voluntary resignation would be an appropriate response, notwithstanding that the investigation is ongoing, and would go some way in restoring public confidence in those who hold public office and in the office they hold.

If they are eventually vindicated, they can be reinstated to their positions, if not with their integrity intact, at least salvaging some modicum thereof.  Voluntary resignation pending the investigation, far from being an act of weakness, will demonstrate moral responsibility and support accountability.

I, like many Vincentians, await the outcome of the investigation that is said to be in progress and any legal proceedings that may ensue against any of the parties alleged to be involved.  Pending the investigation, however, comments purporting to justify or excuse alleged criminal conduct are unacceptable and even more so when made by those responsible for maintaining national safety through the enforcement of law and order.  Unfortunately, it appears that our society has become so accustomed to this rationalization process, that we are oblivious to the fact that we have entered the slippery slope toward ethical numbness and are now at the stage of being morally disengaged.

Those who hold public office are servants of the State and, as such, are answerable to the public for their actions and their decisions.   Where those actions and decisions clash with the law, irrespective of the existence of a viable defence, there must be transparency and accountability.  To accept anything less from those who hold public office would be to disregard the rule of law at our peril.

Zhinga Horne Edwards

Barrister-at-law and Solicitor

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Comments (12)

  1. MRS Edwards thanks very much for your contribution. I am happy to know that there are lawyers with spiritual moral and legal thinking. But l am very concerned about the prime Minister statement about defending women in the context in which he spoke. That statement in my mind is a criminal offense according to the laws of st vincent and the Grenadines any statement that caused public fear or can promotes violence it’s an offense. And the commissioner of police should ask the prime Minister to retract that statement.

  2. Well said . I deem it an act national pride and professional respectability that you have stepped out to voice your concern for what seems to gross negligence and indifference
    on the relevant authority (s) to behave a manner worthy of commendation. It would therefore be remiss of the vincentian public if it did not give serious thought to this state of affairs and took the requisite action yo redress issue

  3. As a JP I recommend that some action must be taken to full fill the roles of law in our country St.Vincent and the Grenadines the law must be for every one to obay not only some you must not be bigger than the law you pass down to us. Amen

  4. Completely agree with the sentiments express in your article. Does the prime minister utterance about women standing up for women in regards to this incident concerns you? And what do you think he wanted to conveyed by these utterances?

  5. I endorse every word that has been written by the learned counsel.
    I further add that in conversation with members of the public who understand right from wrong, their words are telling!
    “The woman and the men should resign now and furthermore that is not politics. They commit acts that the victim talked about. The man foot hurting him. They could have killed that man.”
    Justice must not just seem as if it is done, but justice must be done.

  6. You have said it Mrs. Zhinga Horne Edwards. I endorse your article on this alleged criminal act. Mrs. Mayers I agree with you as well.
    Zhinga Horne Edwards , your dad I knew so well as a family friend and neighbor where he was raised is proudly smiling at you breaking your silence on this matter.
    Keep Plugging! Do good, and fear no man.
    We all are awaiting the results.

  7. okay its all good and dandy that she Zhinga feels the need to speak out on issues when it does not personally affect her….wooo hooo we commend you for speaking up.. BUT! with that said! where was your empathy, where was your article, for that poor girl Jahdatta asking for Camillo Gonsalves to resign from office? where was your voice for her ZHINGA HORNE? you all speak about morals, and integrity do you have any? Jahdatta suffered by the hands of Camillo and Ralph Gonsalves only to end up in a mad house, fed all kinds of psychopathic drugs, crucified by the corrupt system that is a police force, and by the hands of Ralph and camillo.. so! before you can call yourself a VINCENTIAN which you were not born but probably naturalized which might I add is still up for debate. so! before you put finger to keyboard check your closet for skeletons and make sure you are all clear before you put finger to keypad…

  8. Mrs. Horne Edwards, very many of the ordinary working folk of SVG have absolutely NO CONFIDENCE in the former integrity of the OECS legal profession. We have seen practitioners at the very highest levels being accused of serious, injurious, and felony crimes or grossly immoral conduct, with them GOING UNCHARGED, and later, publicly, vaunting and flauting themselves in related apparently morally compromising situationss. Non-lawyer, former PM of SVG, Sir James Mitchell, in his published autobiographical collection of Caribbean speeches, has made the SERIOUS POINT and passive ACCUSATION that the top political actors in SVG, particularly the sitting Prime Minister, can BULLY, INTIMIDATE, COMPROMISE, PRESSURE, or untowardly INFLUENCE even the Regional High Court judges, or their juridical decisions. He thus make mince meat of the once lauded concept of INDEPENDANCE OF THE JUDICIARY.
    INDEED, we saw a recent Prime Minister effectively influencing or publicly appearing to influence the duly appointed Trinidad-born Magistrate who was tasked with dealing with lands taken back from some SVG Farmers in the south leeward area, and the regime’s overreach in its precipitate actions against Mr. Ordan Graham of the SVG GREEN PARTY in his attempts to exercise his rights of legally, constitutionally protected FREE POLITICAL SPEECH. What we SVG citizens witnessed then, with shock and consternation, the illegal, gangster like, actions of a TOTALITARIAN COMMUNISTIC DICTATORSHIP. i have long mostly abandoned my HOPE for the help of the duly appointed Court officers in my beloved SVG. I even used to privately counsel with previous Registrars of the High Court. Mrs. Horne Edwards: the only recourse left to me, it seems now, is the ultimate or specially intervening RESCUE AND HELP of the Almighty Creator himself. Justice is dying, or near-totally dead in today’s SVG. We may yet see the cynically abusers remove our national motto — “PAX ET JUSTITIA”, Peace with Justice.