By Caribbean News Now contributor
PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands -- In response to what he described as unsupported and preposterous accusations on the local judicial and legal system, coupled with “other scurrilous and defamatory material”, Turks and Caicos Islands attorney general Huw Shepheard said consideration will be given to proceedings for contempt of court or scandalising the judiciary.
In addition to individual authors, those who hide behind anonymous websites, the owners of such websites and those who facilitate their existence are equally guilty and they should not be under the illusion that, if identified, they are not likely to face prosecution to the utmost extent of the law, Shepheard added.
"Such attacks are abhorrent in a decent and orderly society and I urge the public and the media to adhere to the highest principles of decency and proper restraint in commenting on judicial and public matters; all commentators must bear in mind that the judges cannot respond themselves,” he said.
According to Shepheard, “No right-thinking person would believe or accept as accurate the offensive drivel that is being written, but it seems that many uncritically believe what they read, with the result that there is a general weakening in respect for our institutions and legal system, and for judicial independence.”
He said that such personal and defamatory attacks on public servants are grossly unfair and should stop.
“Their continuance is corrosive and destructive of public trust in institutions which serve all Turks and Caicos Islanders and all who live here; they simply pander to ignorance and the worst side of human nature,” he continued.
Shepheard pointed out that, if people have concerns and wish to raise particular issues or complaints, they are welcome to do so in a free society but should do so in temperate and reasonable language, without indulging in disgusting personal attacks, which must be very distressing for the victims and their families and friends.
“I should also point out that such behaviour may well amount to the criminal offence of scandalising the judiciary, which carries a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and the possibility of life imprisonment,” he said.
He claimed that internet sites and the media generally should not accept and publish anonymous columns; since doing so “actively promotes cowardly and sickening attacks such as these and lowers the tone of journalism.”
Shepheard went on to remind public officers who disclose public information to such sites that they are liable to disciplinary action and prosecution for the unauthorized disclosure of public information and could face penalties of up to two to ten years imprisonment and a fine of up to $50,000.
"Our Constitution and the other laws I have referred to seek to balance the exercise of the right to free speech against the harm that unfettered free speech can do to individuals and society at large. Such abuse as we have seen recently does not enjoy any protection under the Constitution,” he concluded.