Right to life

Justice Robin Mohammed -
Justice Robin Mohammed -

IT IS THE first right in the Constitution. The right to life is, theoretically, not hard to understand.

But what this right means in practice as a matter of law is often subject to confusion and disagreement, particularly as it relates to the victims of violence in this country. That could be about to change.

The lawsuit against the State involving the late Samantha Stacey Isaacs, for which oral arguments closed last Friday before Justice Robin Mohammed, involves domestic violence. But it also involves so much more.

Young Ms Isaacs was shot in both legs and the back of her head by an abusive ex-boyfriend. Kahriym Garcia left her to die in the road in Carenage, days before Christmas in 2017, before reportedly succumbing to suicide.

However, lawyers argue her murder was made possible by a scandalous series of failings on the part of the State which, effectively, deprived her of the right to life, security of person and equality before the law.

Before that fateful December day, numerous complaints were made. On one occasion, the assailant issued threats in the presence of police, who did nothing. No record was made. No investigation was done.

How the assailant obtained his weapon – theoretically also a matter subject to state regulation – is anybody’s guess.

A magistrate, who had been asked to issue a legally-binding protection order, declined to do so. At one hearing, a judicial officer, who was schooled in the law and had a duty to act, reportedly waved away the victim’s plea after standing the matter down for just 22 seconds. No cogent reason for this has emerged.

So bad is the case, the normally bedraggled Police Complaints Authority had cause to rouse itself. It recommended disciplinary action against at least one officer at the Carenage police station for neglect.

If this litany of errors sounds extreme – “cruel and unusual” is the legal formulation used by lawyers representing the family – the case nonetheless echoes so many others in this country.

The murders, last month, of Calida Schamber and her mother Carmelita De Leon, in Shorelands, were reminders of the shocking extent of domestic-violence matters, which numbered at least 6,250 between March 2020 and March 2022.

Whichever way Justice Mohammed rules in the coming weeks – and it is for the judge and the judge alone to decide this case – there will be implications for not only women affected by partner violence but also our rights culture.

For instance, a parliamentary committee last week got a taste of how failings regarding the disabled effectively rob such citizens of the rights they are supposed to enjoy.

With constitutional reform recently relaunched by the Rowley administration, the test case before Justice Mohammed could well become an important part of the constitutional reform conversation.

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