EDITORIAL - Let due process take its course
When it comes to the news industry it is well known that there is more than one side to every story. It is only through information collection from various sources that a closer representation of the truth can be revealed. This is one of the reasons why the new social media, with its immediacy and lack of regulated filters (no pun intended) can often lead to misinformation. This is also why people are encouraged to think for themselves despite the availability of the numerous channels for news.
Luckily, when it comes to serious crimes, the legal system is set up to be impartial and accused persons are afforded a fair trial, free from personal opinions and supported by evidence. Even where juries are utilised, those individuals are instructed to avoid contaminating the process by reading about or associating with elements relating to the case which they will be deciding.
More recently, however, there seems to a heavier influence from the court of public opinion when it comes to certain crimes, and though this could be considered poetic justice in some cases, it is not true justice and should be frowned upon in favour of maintaining fairness.
We speak in part of the slew of sexual allegations against well known celebrities, Hollywood bigwigs and politicians. Starting with Bill Cosby, then Harvey Weinstein, and followed by Kevin Spacey, it now seems a new allegation is surfacing every day. And with these allegations, oftentimes before criminal charges can even be filed, the public has formed an opinion and the accusers are vilified, losing not only public support but professional backing as well, which can heavily impact their current and future livelihood.
To be clear, this in no way means that criminals should be shown leniency, but they should be proven to be criminals first. Also, this is not a reprimand to the people coming forward to make accusations. Though the sheer numbers of allegations and the details behind them are horrifying and distressing, the momentum of the women and men coming forward bodes well that the tradition of sexual misconduct and the silence surrounding these vile actions has been booted and a new norm is being fostered.
What we seek to highlight here is that there needs to be due process before action is taken against an accused, and that action should be set out by the court. True, the criminal justice system is not foolproof and has gotten it wrong on occasion – case in point, Carolyn Bryant, a White Mississippi woman who in 1955 accused then 14-year-old Emmett Till, a black boy, of verbally and physically accosting her, leading to his death, but who later admitted it was a lie; and Wanetta Gibson, who admitted she lied about a rape that led to the conviction of promising young footballer Brian Banks for six years. However, the majority of the time, if everyone has the chance to prove their case, the system works.
We do not live in a perfect world. There are bad people who commit crimes, but there are also bad people who accuse others wrongfully. And it should never be enough just to point a finger. Here in Barbados, with the push towards enacting the Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Act 2017, there will need to be clarity amongst employees and employers about the correct way to proceed to air and document grievances and follow through to legal recourse where applicable.
In the end, we would expect that everyone would be treated fairly as they seek justice.