In the USA, a mafia murderer, who had all evidence against him, went home scot-free. During trial all went well; the prosecutor had done his work, confident to win his case. But the verdict was different.
The members of the jury were not kept behind closed doors; they were allowed to go home everyday; the judge had ‘failed’ to sermon them in that direction – because he had been bought by the mafia. And there was a non-lieu! The murderer was free – that’s the law.
In Canada, a man got up at night, drove a few kilometres to his in-laws’ place, murdered them. Then he went back home to sleep. Later he was arrested. Found to be of sound health, on trial he was found not guilty and went home free! Because he had committed his crime while sleepwalking! That’s the law of the land. The population, who constitute the ‘vox populi’, had agreed to such laws; it cannot come to dispute such legal stands taken by the court. It can ask for a revision of the laws – but it cannot take to the streets to protest.
However, in a dictatorship where the dictator plays the role of the executive, legislator and judge at the same time, the people do have a ground to have recourse to street protests so as to aspire for fair trial. Even in the USA, there is a belief that the Afro-American criminals get worst court punishments than their white counterparts; so now and then there are riots and protests against court verdicts, especially in the southern states.
The axiom ‘vox populi, vox dei’ is known to all of us; we know what ‘vox’ is and what ‘dei’ stands for. Of course ‘populi’ is taken for granted. The problem arises when we ask ourselves whether there is a difference between an educated, informed population and an uneducated one – and which one is nearer to God’s wishes? A majority of the German people of the 1940s supported Hitler. In retrospect we now know that they were horribly mistaken. They were light years away from God.
Had the Germans been conscious of Alcuin’s advice to Charlemagne in the year 798, “And those people should not be listened to who keep saying ‘Vox Populi, Vox Dei’ since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness”, they might have averted a lot of sufferings. But it was left to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Walter Reynolds, in 1327 to popularize the concept when he brought charges against King Edward II by delivering his sermon under the title “Vox populi, vox dei”. (Wikipedia)
So when some of our socio-religious organisations want us to believe that they are in favour of a certain condemned individual, we have a right to query that stand. They constitute a minority of the population – they are not the ‘vox populi’. In fact such organisations may be doing themselves a lot of harm, shooting themselves in the foot, by siding with someone condemned by the court. Theirs is to fight for social justice and to agree to side with the law of the country, and trust the legal system whose professionals have spent precious time at the university and in their practice to learn their trade.
In olden days, the elder of the village held court under the central tree of the village, with the people gathering to hear a verdict in cases of dispute or misunderstanding. The villagers expressed their views, but ultimately had to bow to the final decision of the chieftain and abide by the rules then prevailing in that particular village. It is the same spirit that has been extrapolated to our modern societies.
The executive deals with the pragmatic problems of our society; their decision-making and decisions must conform to the laws voted by the legislative; and the judiciary is there to see that the laws of the land voted by the latter are correctly interpreted and adhered to. Hence the concept of separation of powers. Under this model, according to Wikipedia, the state is divided into branches, each with separate and independent powers and areas of responsibility so that the powers of one branch are not in conflict with the powers associated with the other branches.
But there are times when the people in the executive, the legislature and the judiciary overstep their duty, for the simple reason that they are, after all, human beings — with misplaced emotions (as the American judge did). However, the judiciary will be less prone to such practice because, by nature, it has to be rational and stick to the dictum of the book. The ‘vox populi’ is not their concern, whereas the former two depend on that ‘vox’ to come to office. No wonder, now and then, they forget their sacred duty and appeal to that irrational voice, more so if that ‘populi’ is not very educated.
If it is well informed the population will know that the ultimate good of the individual and society lies in the respect of the judiciary, and not by supporting some individual condemned by the law. After all, the law has made allowance for the individual, if he so wishes, to go on appeal to higher court: the Supreme Court of the land, and even to the Privy Council.
So what is the game of those socio-cultural bodies? Why defeat the purpose of the law, which is here to see to it that all individuals are treated equally – even those of socio-cultural organizations – whatever their standing or status? One gets the impression that those socio-cultural organisations ignore, or pretend to ignore, the very basics of the society they live in.
No doubt, we realize that the law is sometimes beyond our grasp, because the professionals found therein live by certain rules. We may be innocent, but if we fail to produce the necessary evidence in our favour then our fate succumbs to the burden of proofs against us. It is clear that the richer we are the greater a body of lawyers we can recruit to dig out all sorts of written laws that will bail us out; if we are poor then we may have a very average lawyer to plead for us, with the risk of failure and condemnation.
An individual can be convicted only if he is totally conscious of his action at the time of the crime; this has to do with his free will and intention to commit wrong or not, and his power to discriminate between right and wrong. And the law is there to protect that individual’s right. But the voice of the ‘populi’ has nothing to do with that dimension of the law.
There is no dictatorship in our country; we must allow an appeal to proceed and give a chance to our learned judges to do their duty. By not agreeing to the two magistrates’ verdict in the present case, some of our politicians might have missed the opportunity to capitalize on the occasion to rise to a higher level. Just as they would not like others to interfere in their duty, so also they should try to respect the institutions of democracy – for the sake of generations to come
The African continent may look upon us as an advanced democracy, but we know that we are far from such a dream; it is up to our elected leaders to lead us to that status and for the ‘populi’ to see to it that they keep that promise.
- Published in print edition on 17 July 2015