While SEARCHLIGHT will never support or condone vigilante justice, we understand that it is a manifestation of the frustration of a group of people who may be under the impression that the justice system has let them down.
Vigilante justice is rare in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and it is not something we would wish to become the norm here. We therefore join with the high command of the Police in urging the people of SVG to not repeat what occurred in Petit Bordel last week, when a man, who was a person of interest in investigations into the attempted rape and indecent assault of a 10-year-old, was beaten by residents of the area.
It must always be assumed that a person suspected of a crime is innocent; we must allow the allegations against the accused to be investigated, and for suspects to be tried and given the opportunity to defend themselves before a court of law. We are a nation of laws and must clamp down on outbreaks such as what took place last week, so that other communities are not encouraged to act in a similar manner.
That being said, we must also do more as a society to ensure that those guilty of crimes, particularly heinous offences, feel the full weight of the law and that when they are sentenced, the public knows about it. Justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done.
As was mentioned in an editorial two weeks ago, in recent times, we have noted an increase in the frequency of reports of sexual offences against minors. We also mentioned that because of the nature of these offences, in many cases, for the protection of the victim (particularly where incest is involved), the media is not allowed to photograph or report the names of the accused or convicted. We also are no longer allowed to report on sexual assault cases heard before the High Court, and we have never been allowed in the Family Court. The public may therefore be under the impression that cases such as these are not being dealt with by the justice system. We therefore applaud the police for issuing a press release to let the public know about the penalty meted out by the Family Court to a man guilty of sexual assault on a five-year-old.
The delay between the commission of offences and when they are tried in court is also a cause for concern, as is the relatively low conviction rate, especially in high profile cases. These feed into the perception of the public that criminals are allowed to walk free.
Instead of taking matters into their own hands, we urge the public to continue to work with the police, utilizing any of the means they have put at our disposal for the anonymous reporting of tips. The police provide the only legal buffer between law abiding citizens and those bent on breaking the law. We cannot, in our efforts to deal with criminals, ourselves become breakers of the law. Vigilante justice cannot be supported, ever. It is better for 10 guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be condemned.