Deaf, Dumb and Blind ‘Justice’ / ‘Jostis’ Def, Dom an Blain

On the eve of the historic University of the West Indies conference on “Language Policy in the Creole-Speaking Caribbean,” I have to tell the story of the upsetting experience I had last year in a Resident Magistrate’s court in Jamaica.  I was there representing myself as the defendant in a case against an unscrupulous supplier of windows who had sued me for refusing to pay for defective windows.

Believe it or not, he had conceded that the windows were substandard.  But he intended to refund my deposit only if I agreed that he could remove the faulty windows within a month or so.  If I did not let him remove the windows within that narrow time frame, I would be forced to purchase them!

Since he had taken almost 5 months to install windows that should have been ready in about 3 weeks, I considered his proposal completely wicked and refused to be pressured into buying sub-standard windows.  I made it quite clear that I needed time to decide on alternative windows and then to have them manufactured.  Refusing to bow to reason, the unconscionable man proceeded to sue me.

I won the case but wasted a lot of time in court.  All the same, I learnt a lot about deaf, dumb and blind ‘justice’ in the Jamaican courts.  One morning, as I waited for my case to be heard, I listened in amazement as the judge explained in quite sophisticated English how she was proposing to handle a dispute about unpaid rent.

The defendant was told that the case was going to be sent to a mediator who would discuss exactly how much rent the defendant would have to pay.  The distressed defendant kept on insisting in Jamaican that she didn’t owe as much rent as the landlord claimed.  The judge continued speaking in English, simply repeating her proposal.  This back-and-forth went on for a good few minutes.

At the risk of being deemed in contempt of court, I jumped up and asked the judge if she would allow me to translate her comments for the defendant.  She agreed.  As soon as the woman understood the proposal, she accepted it.  What angered me was the smug question the judge then asked: “Is that what I should have said?”  To which I disdainfully replied, “Yes, Your Honour.”

Surely, the judge should know that justice cannot be dispensed in a language that the defendant does not understand!  What bothered me is that the judge must have realised that the defendant did not understand her.  But it did not occur to her that she needed to use “that” language, Jamaican.

That same day, the stubborn judge refused to acknowledge the fact that another defendant had not understood her ruling.  In this case, the plaintiff did not appear in court and so the case was dismissed.  But the poor defendant, who did not understand that he was free to go, sat in the court for another hour waiting for the case to be tried.

I was so vexed, I again jumped up and asked the judge why she would not make it clear to the man that he was free to go.  I couldn’t believe it when she said that she had told the man he could go and if he wants to sit there it’s his business!  It clearly didn’t matter to her that the man did not understand.  That was his problem, not hers.  I took it upon myself to tell the man that he’d gotten off.  And he quickly left the court.

Now this is a judge who considered it appropriate to dress me down because, in her opinion, I was not properly dressed for court.  On yet another court appearance, I considered myself dressed to kill in a kris white linen pants suit.  I couldn’t believe it when the judge declared that my pants were mid-calf, and this was not acceptable.

I excused myself and went into the corridor.  I unbuttoned my pants, got them to drop a good few inches and then hobbled back into court like those young men with their pants waist at their knees.  Of course, I had to hobble very carefully because if the pants fell to the floor I would definitely be in contempt of court.

The judge insisted that the extra inches made absolutely no difference.  She pointed to one of the men and informed me that his pants length was the standard:  the hem of my pants had to go right down to the floor.  In complete frustration, I turned to leave the court when a police officer said to me, “Just tell her seh yu sorry!”  I did, with much insincerity.

The Half-Way-Tree courthouse from the website of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust

I couldn’t believe it!  A few inches of cloth was a bigger issue than making sure that the language of the courts is understood by all citizens.  Hopefully, the long-overdue conference on “Language Policy in the Creole-Speaking Caribbean” will eventually result in a law that will protect the language rights of all citizens.  The business of the courts, for example, must be conducted in Jamaican for clients who do not know English.  This is natural justice, plain and simple.

‘Jostis’ Def, Dom an Blain

A tumura di big-taim kanfrans a go staat op a Yuunivorsiti a di Wes Indiis, we dem a go chat bout langgwij palisi fi di konchri dem iina di Kyaribiyan we taak Kriyuol.  Taakin bout dat, mi ha fi tel unu wan stuori bout wapn tu mi iina wan Rezident Majischriet  kuort iina Jamieka laas ier. Mi beks, mi beks, mi beks so til!   Mi dida difen miself iina wan kies gens wan banduulu man we sel winda.  Im suu mi chruu mi tel im se mi naa pie im fi im bad winda dem.

Unu naa biliiv dis:  di man admit se di winda dem no gud.  Bot im no plan fi gi mi bak di moni mi pie dong – if mi no mek im kom tek out di winda dem likl aafta dat.  Bout wan mont im waan gi mi.  If mi no mek im kom kwik-kwik fi tek im spwail winda, im a go mos an boun mi fi pie fi dem!

Wel, sins im did tek aalmuos 5 mont fi put iin di winda dem we im did se uda redi iina 3 wiik, mi nuo se im wikid.  An mi mek op mi main se mi naa mek im presha mi fi bai im buogos winda dem.  Mi tel im se mi ha fi disaid mi main wa kain a ada winda mi waant; an mi ha fi wiet fi huusueva a mek dem tek dem taim.  Di ankanshanebl man naa tink chriet an im rosh go suu mi.

Mi win di kies bot mi wies nof taim a kuort.  Stil far aal, mi laan uol iip bout ‘jostis’ iina Jamieka kourtous. ‘Jostis’ def, dom an blain.  Wan maanin, mi a wiet fi mi kies kaal.  Mi kyaan biliiv it wen mi ier di joj a yuuz som big wod fi eksplien ou shi a do diil wid wan kies we di piipl dem a kwaril bout rent.

Di joj tel di uman we uoa rent se shi a go sen di kies to wan ‘mediator’ fi disaid omoch rent shi fi pie.  Di puor uman kip aan a tel di joj se shi no uoa di uol iip a big moni we di lanlaad se shi uoa.  Di joj shi dis a gwaan brandish di big wod dem; an di uman naa gi op fi ar kies.  Dem gwaan bak an fort kopl minits wel.

Mi no kya if dem se mi ‘in contempt of court.’  Mi jomp op an aks di joj if mi kyan chienj uova we shi a se iina Ingglish tu Jamiekan.  Shi se ‘yes.’  Fram di uman andastan wa di joj a se, shi agrii.  Di ting dat beks mi nou a wen di joj shii wid ar ekschra self a go aks mi, “Is that what I should have said?”  Mi jos kot mi yai aafta ar an se, “Yes, Your Honour.”

Yu a go tel mi se di joj no nuo se nobadi kyaan get no jostis iina kuortous if yu no andastan di langgwij we dem a yuuz gens yu!  Yu nuo we beks mi?  Di joj mos did nuo se di uman neva andastan ar.  Bot it neva kom tu ar se shi ha fi go yuuz ‘that’ langgwij, Jamiekan.

Dat siem die, di haad-iez joj rifuuz fi admit se wan neks difendant neva andastan ar jojment. Ier ou dat wan go!  Di man we a suu neva kom a kuort.  So di joj chruo out di kies.  Di puor difendant neva andastan se im get we.  So im sidong iina kourt fi bout a neks owa a wiet fi di kies chrai.

Mi beks so til.  Mi jomp op agen an aks di joj we mek shi no tel di man im frii fi go.  Mi kudn biliiv it wen shi se sopn laik “I told the man he could go and if he wants to sit there it’s his business!”  It no mata to ar se di man no andastan.  A fi im prablem.  A no fi ar.  Mi mek it mi bizniz fi tel di man, “Yu get we!” An im waak outa kuort kwik-kwik.

Nou, dis a di sed siem joj we wies taim a jres mi dong bikaa shi disaid se mi neva jres prapa fi kom a kuort.  Dis taim, mi nuo mi jres tu pus bak fut iina wan kris wait linin pans suut.  Mi kudn biliiv it wen di joj gi aaf se mi pans jrap a di migl a mi kyaaf an dat kyaan kom a kuortous.

Mi beg ekskyuuz an mi go iina di pasij.  An mi pul mi pans wies an jraa dong di pans kopl inch wel. Den mi shofl bak iina kuort laik dem yong bwai wid dem pans wies dong a dem nii.  Mi ha fi a tek taim shofl kaa if di pans faal a grong a dat taim nuo mi dairekli “in contempt of court.”

Di joj shii naa bak dong.  Shi se di kopl inch naa mek no difrans at aal, at all.   Shi paint pan wan a di man dem, an se fi im pans lent a di standad:  di pans ha fi go rait dong a grong.  Mi beks so til mi staat waak out.  An wan poliis afisa se tu mi, “Jos tel ar se yu sari!”  Mi dwiit, bot mi neva miin it.

Old Spanish Town Courthouse from the website of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust

Mi kudn biliiv it!  Kopl inch a klaat muor important dan mek shuor se evri sitizn andastan di langgwij we a yuuz iina kuortous.  Aal mii uop is dat dis ya kanfrans pan langgwij palisi fi di konchri dem iina di Kyaribiyan we taak Kriyuol – we shulda kip lang-taim abak – a go chienj op tingz.  Mii waan govament paas a laa fi protek di langgwij raits a aal sitizn.  Wen yu  go a kuortous di laaya an di joj dem supuozn fi chat mek yu andastan.  If yu no nuo Ingglish dem fi taak Jamiekan.  Dat a jostis fi chruu, plien an simpl.

16 thoughts on “Deaf, Dumb and Blind ‘Justice’ / ‘Jostis’ Def, Dom an Blain

  1. Pingback: Cake Soap and Creole: The Bleaching of the Nation… « Active Voice

  2. English should definitely be regarded as a language separate from Patois or “Patwa” as I like to spell it. Imagine if children could aspire to be bilingual instead of being stuck in a world of both broken English and Patwa. The court system is still tied up in old colonial ways (that Britain itself has moved past now) so we cannot look to them for leadership.

    As Carolyn’s blog highlights above, I think there is much work to be done on simplifying and standardizing the way we use our language (eg. spell words). For instance, I find the “patwa” spelling in the translation above is overly complex to me.

    • Varun, thanks for taking the time to post a response. I do understand why you think the phonetic spelling for Jamaican looks ‘overly complex.’ It’s quite logical but unfamiliar. If you have a little patience to read out loud at first, it will become quite easy. So don’t give up on the writing system designed by the linguists:=)

  3. Hi Carolyn. Great post, I really enjoyed it, including the patwa. There are a couple of words I don’t think were spelled right, like pie for pay, but overall, it was good. Respec fi dat still.

    • Mad Bull, thanks for the shout out! As you will see from Varun’s response, the writing system for Jamaican that I’m using is a little tricky – if you’re comparing it with the erratic English system you learned in school. The vowels are really easy once you realise that each one is pronounced independently so to speak. So in the case of ‘pie’, the i and the e would be pronounced phonetically. Yu remember a,e, i, o, u? So that’s how ‘pie’ becomes the Jamaican spelling for the English ‘pay.’ Anyhow, this is my amateur explanation:=) The Jamaican Language Unit (JLU) at UWI has published a book, Writing Jamaican the Jamaican Way. It comes with a very helpful DVD. It’s published locally by Arawak Publishers. You should take a look at it. And here’s a music video the JLU has done to sell the writing system: Hope you’ll enjoy it.

  4. As a recent law school graduate (albeit from a US school) I’m appalled at your account of the Jamaican judge’s behaviour in court. But even without being one of her legal brethren, I would still be dismayed. This behaviour is really quite unfair and unprofessional…she seemed to act with such disdain. Surely she understands that not all who appear before her can understand her rulings and orders! My goodness, I wonder how many have suffered on days when no one is there to assist.

  5. Yu nuo se a wa die ya mi a peni dis jres kuod ting. Mi wehn si kopl aatikl bout i ina di Gliina an den mi nuotis frahn lang taim tu se wen mi go laibri, aspital an dem kaina plies de, dem aalwiez av jres kuod puos op—an di wola di ruul dem refa tu uman wan. Mi rait sitn bout i tu… mi no si wa we yu av aan afi du wid notn. Ano laik se nof smadi ago shuo op a kuot ina bikiini…an aal ef a dat dem av aan, mi no si we dat afi du wid notn. Wi tuu self-raichos.

    Yu nuo ou mi fiil bout di patwa ting aredi. Mi laik ou yu lingk op di jres kuod fuulishnis wid i, kaa di tuu a dem afi du wid klaasizm. Smadi uu ejumakietid (migl-klaas) supuos tu nuo se sortn tingz nofi wier a kuot. Somtaim mi wanda bout wi.

      • Honesty, flour more than water:=) I’ve asked the director of the Jamaican language Unit at the University of the West Indies to translate the columns for me into Jamaican. I just can’t keep up with the translating each week. I’m waiting to hear back from him.

  6. 😦
    Mi Teach..
    Mi hope a nuh only yaso that yuh rait disya post.
    Yuh si the importance a blog
    A how wi woulda kno this if yuh neva rait it.

    I was a part of this system for years and saw more of this kind of behaviour from our “learned enemies” of poor people….
    I went the extra (multiple) mile just to try to counter-balance the one-eyed myopic system of social engineering in suppression that is represented by this system which misrepresents justice.

    It was widely held by some among us that verily Justice was not blind but one-eyed and was the poor dirty cousin of law a-la-Cinderella, she of the pumpkin coach, lost glass slipper and a charmer of a prince, and they (Law & Justice) were not domiciled in the same place much more to be on speaking terms with each other.

    Mi Teach
    This matter of language usage by the EDJUCATED is primarily to DIG themselves under the dark depths of that nowhere abyss from which they can look up, thinking it is down and askance at those others who have not yet shared their fate and make believe that they are looking down at others – it is just another make believe.
    Make believe I am better because my speech is better….

    Luv Tha Blog Ya

  7. Hello Dr. Cooper, thank you for this post. I was quite amused by the judge’s denouncement of your cris linen pants suit, because from my days at UWI, I know that you are impeccably dressed. It’s hard to believe that this sort of statement is being made by (hopefully) an educated member of the judiciary in the 21st century. As for the person who said that you made spelling mistakes in the creole translation, I think sometimes people want to get involved in a discussion but don’t want to take the time to offer helpful analysis on this important discussion. I trust your scholastic qualifications, high esteem among your academic peers, experience and passion for the movement to get Jamaican Creole recognised over any lay pedant. Personally, I do not care whether Creole is recognised, because I had a hard time making friends in high school for not being able to express myself in Creole. My parents chose to educate me at home in English, effectively isolating me from my peers when it was time to go to school. At UWI, batchmates thought I was an external student, and today, when I meet and speak with Jamaicans, they think I’m lying about my heritage. I’m amazed to see this debate over making Creole the language of choice, when English speakers like myself have been treated like outsiders because of our parents’ choices. Later I chose not to learn it. Instead, I chose to acquire four foreign languages that have more practical value for my work. Does that now make me a candidate for ostracism? What do you think about that Dr. Cooper?

  8. I feel obliged to offer a ray of hope. I used to be a magistrate. I live in the Eastern Caribbean. I ran a Creole speaking court for the simple reason that in some parts of my magisterial districts litigants would stare at me blankly if I spoke standard Caribbean English. I have also been told by colleagues in St. Lucia that the courts there have full time French Creole translators attached them for the purpose of translating the proceedings to non-English speaking litigants.

    Incidentally, when I was in law school at Norman Manley, more than one lecturer cautioned us on the importance of communicating in Creole to non-English speaking litigants. You just happened to have met a magistrate who has not quite managed to throw off all her shackles.

  9. Pingback: Blind Justice

  10. Greetings all,

    Let me know what you think of this website: I’ve linked to this blog post from it. The website is in alpha so it will have updates (much work still to do). I hope the language does not offend anyone.

  11. Spot on with this write-up, I honestly believe this website needs
    a lot more attention. I’ll probably be back again to read more, thanks for the information!

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