Believe it or not, the Jamaican Constitution covertly acknowledges the fact that ‘patwa’ is, indeed, a national language. Furthermore, the Constitution guarantees ‘patwa’ speakers basic rights in the legal system. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself the relevant sections:
Chapter III of the Jamaican Constitution (2011)
Section 14 (2)
(2) Any person who is arrested or detained shall have the right
(b) at the time of his arrest or detention or as soon as is reasonably practicable, to be informed, in a language which he understands, of the reasons for his arrest or detention;
(c) where he is charged with an offence, to be informed forthwith, in a language which he understands, of the nature of the charge;
Section 16 (6)
(6) Every person charged with a criminal offence shall
(a) be informed as soon as is reasonably practicable, in a language which he understands, of the nature of the offence charged;
(e) have the assistance of an interpreter free of cost if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court;
The Constitution doesn’t explicitly state the fact that the language of the court is English. Nor does it openly admit that the first language of the vast majority of Jamaicans is not English but Jamaican. To concede this gross disparity would be an admission of the fundamental inequity of the justice system. So, instead, we have compromised justice.
If you are arrested, and/or charged with a criminal offence and end up in court you are entitled to an interpreter who is supposed to ensure that you understand what’s going on. Of course, no self-respecting police officer arrests anybody in English so there’s usually no need for this service on the spot.
Contemptuous court system
But there’s a fundamental flaw in the Constitution. There are no ‘fair trial’ and ‘due process’ provisions in civil cases for citizens who speak only Jamaican. One morning, as I waited in a Resident Magistrate’s court 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 in another case.
The defendant was told that the case was going to be sent to a mediator who would discuss exactly how much rent she 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 act as interpreter 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 was the haughtiness of Her Honour. She 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.
The same day, this ‘hard-ears’ judge refused to apply the lesson she ought to have learnt and failed to communicate with another defendant. In this instance, 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 court for a whole other 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. Her response was alarming: 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 another day because, in her opinion, I was indecently dressed for court. I thought I was dressed to kill in a ‘kris’ white linen pants suit. Her Honour arbitrarily declared that my pants were not acceptable in her court. They were mid-calf. Incidentally, there were women in skirts shorter than the length of my pants!
I excused myself and went into the corridor. I unbuttoned the pants and got them to drop a good few inches. Fortunately, the shirt was long enough to cover my unmentionables. I then hobbled back into court like those young men with their pants waist almost 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 said that his pants length was the standard: pants, male or female, had to go right down to the floor. In complete frustration, I turned to leave the court when the police officer on duty said to me, “Just tell her seh yu sorry!” I did, with much insincerity.
I couldn’t believe it! A few inches of cloth was a much bigger issue than making sure that the language of the courts is understood by all citizens. This is natural injustice, plain and simple.
‘Patwa’ Raits an Nat so Rait
Yu maita no billiv i; bot ges wa? Aanda di kova, di Kanstityuushan a Jamieka admit se ‘Patwa’ a wan a fi wi nieshan langgwij. Pan tap a dat, di Kanstityuushan se if yu chat ‘Patwa’, wen yu ha fi diil wid enting fi du wid di laa a di konchri, dem ha fi chat mek yu andastan. Yu no ha fi biliiv mi. Si we di laa se ya so:
Chapta III a di Jamieka Kanstityuushan (2011)
Sekshan 14 (2)
(2)(b) If poliis ares yu an huol yu, dem ha fi mek yu andastan wa mek. Kwik-kwik. An dem ha fi yuuz langgwij we yu andastan.
(c) If poliis chaaj yu, siem ting. Dem ha fi mek yu anadastan wa mek. Kwik-kwik. An dem ha fi yuuz langgwij we yu andastan.
Neks sekshan: Section 16 (6)
(6) Ef dem chaaj yu iina kriminal kies, sed siem ting: dem ha fi mek yu anadastan wa mek. Kwik-kwik. An dem ha fi yuuz langgwij we yu andastan.
(e) Pan tap a dat, wen yu go a kuortous dem ha fi pie smadi fi chat mek yu andastan we dem a se if yu no andastan di langgwij we dem a yuuz iina kuortous.
Di Kanstitushan no dairekli se dat kuortous langgwij a so-so Ingglish. An dem naa admit se fi wi haat langgwij a no Ingglish, a Jamiekan. It wuda luk tuu bad. It wuda shuo dem op. Shuo ou di shitstim wikid. Fi wi langgwij no bizniz iina kourtous. Wa kain a jostis dat? So a it mek dem kom op wid di ‘mek op fi dat’ shituieshan. Beta dan notn.
If yu ares, an if dem chaaj yu se yu komit kraim an yu en op iina kuortous, dem mos an boun fi pie smadi fi chat mek yu andastan wat a gwaan. Stil far aal, no haatikal poliis afisa naa ares nobadi iina Ingglish. So nobadi no ha fi chat fi yu de so.
Di shitstim a dis wi!
Di Kanstitushan av wan big-big huol iina it. Wen yu iina kantenshan wid smadi an yu ha fi go a kuortous fi saat it out, yu no entaikl fi get nobadi fi chat fi yu if yu no andastan Ingglish. Dat a ongl fi kriminal kies. So yu salt! Yu naa go get no ‘fier chraiyal’ an ‘tings naa go ron rait’ if yu no andastan wa a gwaan.
Wan maanin, mi iina wan Rezident Majischriet kuortous a wiet fi mi kies kaal. Mi kyaan biliiv it wen mi ier di joj a pap som big wod fi eksplien ou shi a go diil wid wan kies we di piipl dem a kwaaril 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 gwaan 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 smadi we a suu neva kom a kuort. So di joj chruo out di kies. Di puor man we dem suu neva andastan se im get we. So im sidong iina kourtous fi bout a neks owa a wiet fi di kies kaal.
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 laka “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 ron outa kuortous 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 wan a di taim. Eniou, disya maanin, mi nuo mi jres tu pus bak fut iina wan kris wait linin pans suut. Har Hana luk pan mi tel mi se mi pants no fit fi kourtous. Mi pans jrap a di migl a mi kyaaf. Bai di wie, uman di de iina kuortous ufa skort shaata dan fi mi pans lent!
Mi beg ekskyuuz an mi go iina di pasij. An mi pul mi pans wies an jraa dong di pans kopl inch wel. Gud ting di jakit di lang so it haid op mi wats it nat. Den mi shofl bak iina kuort laka 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 nou mi dairekli a dis di kuort.
Di joj shii naa bak dong. Shi se di kopl inch naa mek no difrans at aal, at aal. Shi paint pan wan a di man dem, an se fi im pans lent a di standad: man ar uman pans, di fut ha fi go rait dong a grong. Mi beks so til! Mi staat waak out. A wan poliis afisa se tu mi, “Jos tel ar se yu sari!” Mi dwiit, bot mi neva miin i.
Mi kudn biliiv it! Kopl inch a klaat muor important dan mek shuor se evri sitizn andastan di langgwij we a yuuz iina kuortous. Dat a no jostis. Dat a wikidnis. Op tu di blain kuda si dat.