Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

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"The Draft Gender Policy ... intended to benefit the society as a whole"

Denis Solomon • 10 May 2005 • 712 words
Published in Trinidad Express and Newsday

Judges have the same right as anyone else to hold religious opinions, to express them outside of court, and even to try to spread them.

But when judges make vehement statements of the kind made by Justice Alice Yorke-Soo Hon against the Draft National Gender Policy and Action Plan, they evoke grave doubts about the likelihood of their being objective in their work. They give the impression that they will allow themselves to be influenced by irrelevant religious considerations in conducting trials, instructing juries, and sentencing convicted persons.

This is all the more true in that it already happens. One magistrate lectured a gay defendant, convicted of theft, on the “immorality” of having sex with men, and altered an already delivered sentence in a manner that suggested that the increase was for the homosexuality, which was not part of the charge. Another, fining a woman for working as a nude dancer to support her fatherless children, told her that “if you have strong morality poverty is not a problem”; and a judge advised a convicted defendant to use the weekend to pray for a lenient sentence, while he, the judge, prayed for divine guidance in determining the penalty. Sentences are supposed to be determined on the basis of statute, the record of the convicted person, and judicial guidelines, not divine inspiration.

In particular, statements, even mild ones, by judges on issues likely to be the subject of legislation raise the question of how objective they may be in administering the legislation when it is passed.

The danger of Justice Yorke-Soo Hons’ statement undermining confidence in the objectivity of the courts is all the greater in that such confidence is already very low. The authority of the judicial system has been gravely diminished by the ethnic-religious coloration given to the controversies over the Naraynsingh and Abu Bakr trials, the teacup storm and the process for impeachment of the Chief Justice. The behaviour of all the protagonists in these controversies, as reported in the newspapers, has done nothing to overcome the low regard of the public for the legal system. The nonsense about the naming of the national awards is another example of the futility and hypocrisy of ethno-religious quarrels in a plural society.

Judges, more than anyone, should refrain, not from expressing their religious opinions outside of court, but from doing it in such strident terms as those used by Justice Yorke-Soo Hon. They should express their opinions, if they must, maturely and judiciously, instead of plunging headlong into the ultimately futile and dangerous morass of religious or ethnic controversy.

The proof of the un-judicial nature of Justice Yorke-Soo Hon’s statement on this occasion is that the supposed dangers she predicts are nowhere suggested in the policy proposal she so vehemently attacked. In a document of 140-odd pages, devoted entirely to ways and means of bringing gender considerations into public policy in every area from agriculture to education, there is not a single reference to same-sex marriages, adoption by gay couples, or proposal for legalization of abortion. The only reference to gay rights in the document is the statement that the Equal Opportunities Act does not forbid discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, and the suggestion that the State should promote public discussion with a view to correcting this. The only reference to abortion is to draw attention to the rate of illegal abortions already taking place, and to urge review of the legislation on termination of pregnancy.

These references are therefore far milder than the demagogic response to them of Justice Yorke-Soo Hon. The judge is therefore guilty of the extremely un-judicial behaviour of attempting to pre-empt public discussion on a wide range of extremely important issues, bound together under the heading of gender, by stridently misrepresenting the contents of a document which she knows most of her listeners will never read.

Ms Yorke Soo-Hon’s behaviour has another unfortunate dimension. The Draft Gender Policy and Action Plan is intended to benefit the society as a whole. But there is no doubt that it seeks to do so in part by redressing many of the disadvantages traditionally suffered by women. Ms Yorke Soo-Hon is therefore also guilty of using her status as a successful woman to retard the advancement of other women.

See: TT Humanist Statement on the Draft National Gender Policy and Action Plan

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