guyana chronicle April 1, 2016

 THE case of Colwyn Harding, who was allegedly sodomised while in care of the state, was dismissed this week. That dismissal is not for the want of evidence, but because of the non-attendance of the state prosecutor, and the late attendance of the virtual complainant, at hearings arranged by the court. Harding was, in November 2013, remanded at the Timehri Police Station on the allegation that he had assaulted a police and had resisted arrest. He has alleged that, during this period of remand, officers pushed a condom-covered baton in his anus, causing him to suffer internal injuries.

The reasons advanced and accepted in a case this serious beg the question whether all facets surrounding this case and its impact on society were taken into consideration. The society will forever be haunted by the consideration of whether justice has been served in this matter.

Anyone held in a penal institution is supposed to be in the state’s protection. That Harding’s case has been dispensed in such a manner undoubtedly undercuts justice.

A justifiable concern is whether the judiciary has sent a message to the public that brutality for those not considered privileged or connected is acceptable when in the state’s protection.

Coming on the heels of the prison unrest, with its sordid details and the commission formulated to inquire into that event, the dismissal of Harding’s matter has concomitant questions regarding the State’s commitment to reform the justice system vis-à-vis its perceived action in this regard.
Preceding Harding’s sexual assault there was Tywon Thomas whose genitals was burnt while he was in the protection the state. Prior to these teenagers, who will undoubtedly be traumatised for the rest of their lives, if professional intervention is not received, others too have been mutilated in the most barbaric of manner when in the state’s protection.  In today’s world such behaviours are frowned upon and laws are activated to ensure justice is served. The police too are held to account under the laws.
Issues of less gravity have seen the court summoning witness or issuing arrest warrant to have appeared and lead evidence. Where the prosecutor in Harding’s case failed to turn up, a representative informed the court of his absence and indicated that he will be present at another date this should have attracted consideration. Given that such explanation has become culturally acceptable in our courts, even  if it the magistrate issued pre-condition for setting another date and have the prosecutor present himself, such should have been entertained.
Harding’s matter generated outcry, outrage and condemnation, locally and internationally. This should have communicated to the police and judiciary the over importance for this matter to be prosecuted, not dismissed on the pretext of the absence of the prosecutor.
Sexual abuse ought not to be trifled with even more so when happening to minors and in the protection of the state. The virtual complainant in addition to being violated had suffered and will continue to suffer grave health issues. Human decency at least should have seen this cased tried to finality.  29th March 2016 marked a sad and dark day in Guyana’s calendar and bloody blot on the judicial system. Harding met the same fate as Thomas-after being sexually abused by the police to see the judiciary turned their backs on them.
This is not a case where evidence was evaluated but trivial reasons found to deny the victims and society justice.  In dismissing the case every young man has reason to fear the police, see them as objects of abuse and tyranny, not there to serve and protect but to violate and abuse. Confidence has also ebbed in that the judicial system will be there to dispense justice when the police fail. This will also impact community police relations.
Intelligence gathering is important to crime fighting and where citizens feel the police is not there for them and the judiciary will not serve them they will lose faith in two important institutions of government. Efforts by newly appointed Chief Justice (ag) Justice Yonnette Cummings-Edwards, coupled with the assurance of the David Granger/Moses Nagamootoo government that the systems will be instituted and upheld to ensure that the justice delivered for the society, while it has once again failed another member of society, this must be the last member who has suffered injustice at this hands of both the police and judiciary.