JUSTICE Frank Seepersad’s ruling declaring the sedition law illegal, null and void is a triumph for free speech but also a sterling example of the role of our courts in clarifying the status of our colonial-era laws. This is a victory for decolonialisation.
In his landmark ruling yesterday, the judge found aspects of the law to be a violation of the rule of law, the very foundation of our democracy. The law was offensive precisely because it was not even properly a law: it lacked the certainty needed for people to follow it, to know its limits as reasonable actors within a democratic state.
What is telling, however, is that the Sedition Act, and its offensive sections 3 and 4, survived several eras beyond the colonial, as governments came and went without abolishing it. It was last amended in 1976, when TT became a republic.
The striking down of the law, which is in theory open to appeal, will likely boost the case of those who, currently charged under its provisions, have called for a review of those matters. It will deepen the perception of some that the law has been little more than a political tool given how it has been found to be unjustified.
Under colonial rule, it is possible to understand why the powers that be might have felt such a law useful. Yet, in the year 2020, such oppressive measures cannot be justified.
The State could take this matter to the Privy Council to settle the law to the fullest extent. And that may well be an appropriate course of conduct. But such a tack must be understood in its fullest implications. It would represent the former colonial subject asking the former colonial master to clarify the validity of a provision promulgated by the colonial master.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s recent remarks in a televised interview are instructive in this regard. He noted plans to adopt the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) have been stymied by the failure to secure support in Parliament for such a move. But tellingly, he expressed the view that a referendum on the matter of abolishing our colonialist Privy Council would not be binding in Parliament.
Seepersad has demonstrated the ability of the court, not politicians, to get the job done. Or rather, the claimants have shown this, in the form of the late Sat Maharaj who has demonstrated beyond doubt his ability to make headlines, even in the afterlife.
This ruling – coupled with the legal findings on the homophobic laws as well as similar findings all over the Commonwealth – demands a comprehensive review of all of our archaic colonial-era laws. With a general election due, MPs might be well advised to begin formulating their re-election campaigns with the aim of being on the right side of history.