Focus | Thank God we have a justice system
Nothing riles up Bahamians more than the immigration issue, and that being mostly the illegal Haitian immigration issue. Second to this, are the legal immigrants who they feel may be taking jobs from them. It is, therefore, no surprise that the injunction obtained by Fred Smith to stay the government’s decision to demolish some or all of the structures in the so-called “shantytowns” on New Providence has caused such anxiety. The destruction of shantytowns would be like a symbolic victory in the illegal immigration saga, no doubt. There is something about these shantytowns, especially as they are equated with illegal Haitians, that evokes in many Bahamians a strong sense of national failure, governing unfairness and perverted defiance. I can understand this feeling; after all, it is hard to accept that people, especially illegal residents, could live in defiance of the laws of the land with impunity for so many years, enjoying substandard living and breached compliance, while others who are lawfully resident cannot do so. I truly can understand this. Yet, in their effort to curse the ugliness of this unfairness, so many fail to see the beauty in the fairness that is our courts.
The courts exist to settle disputes between all persons who have differences under the law. Notice I said “all persons”, because all persons under the laws of this country have certain rights. Even a person alleged to be illegally resident in this country has the right to due process under the law. The right to be lawfully arrested, detained, charged and then taken before courts does not arise because of any foreign or international law; it arises because Bahamian law grants this right to a person, any person; indeed, all persons. This right and other rights, no matter to whom they are given, would be nothing if there were not a civil acceptance by us that the courts have the power to protect them.
When attorneys like Fred Smith go before the courts to argue for the rights of their clients, they are doing what civil societies make provision for them to do: they are defending the rights of their clients. The fact that they cannot merely assert those rights but must go before an independent judge to appeal for consideration is a good thing. That fact that they can do so when those rights are alleged to be breached by the governing power of the state is a great thing. Judges are not politicians voted in by people and therefore seeking to pander to their whims and fancies. They are also not lawyers who are out for hire and therefore subject to the interests or wishes of clients. Judges exist to interpret the law and decide what is lawful or otherwise. And yes, judges are humans and therefore subject to failings, but their decisions are subject to review by higher authorities.
I see the activities of an advocate like Fred Smith and I say ‘Thank God for those who will seek to have the courts review even the actions of government’. No, I do not always agree with Fred Smith’s approach or even with the pursuit that he is undertaking, but I always agree with his choice to seek redress through the courts. And I love that our courts are there, available to consider the cases, because I know that on the day I or any other person who dwells in this land needs them, they will be there. Injunctions, convictions, rulings, or stays, whether they be in my favor or against, I thank God for our courts; for without them, my rights in this country would be rainless clouds or heatless fire. No amount of passionate disapproval of illegal immigration will ever change my mind on this.
• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.