Court fees a blow to transparency
A Beaconite’s wallet recently took a beating at the High Court Registry. For readers who don’t know, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court instituted a host of court-proceeding-related fee bumps last September. While the Beaconite understands the desire to generate additional revenue, especially in these cash-strapped times, he finds these new measures cost-prohibitive and anti-transparent. The Beaconite searched for and printed two recent government contracts, as well as one private-sector legal action, all of which were in the territory’s book of deeds. At $10 a search and $1 a page, that little afternoon cost the Beacon a whopping $86. In other words, nearly $100 was spent just to view a couple of documents that were definitely in the public’s interest and had the potential to enrich important stories. The Beaconite believes the courts, especially in the absence of freedom-of-information legislation to guide the territory’s transparency, should keep their public costs to a reasonable level. Disappointingly, the new fees are way off the mark.
Attending Magistrates’ Court as a reporter always requires a fair amount of guessing beforehand. For a Beaconite, knowing what court matters will be heard on any given day — or week or month — very much depends on who at the court answers the phone. There seems to be no standard protocol for releasing information about which defendants will be there. And last week, obtaining information without actually physically arriving at the House of Assembly building was not possible. One of the employees at the Magistrates’ Court told a Beaconite over the phone that court was scheduled on Friday, but was not able to provide any of the defendants’ names or the offences they were charged with. When the reporter asked why that was, considering that court employees had been able to provide a fair amount of information in the past, she did not have an answer. “Just go to the HOA building and you’ll see what matters there are,” she instructed. Aside from an arrest blotter issued weekly by police, there is no way for media to know the schedule for Magistrates’ Court. A reporter asks that basic information be more readily available — or at the very least, a better reason be provided for why it isn’t.
There are few more terrifying moments in the life of a reporter than, after an exhilarating high-octane day at the Leverick Bay Poker Run, watching her tote bag containing two cameras, her phone, her wallet and her recorder with all that week’s interviews on it go flying out of her friend’s hands and into the murky waters of Wickhams Cay II. Miraculously, the bag, after arcing gracefully through the air, floated, and someone helpfully jumped in to retrieve it. Alas, it was mostly too late by then, leaving the Beaconite to redo all of that week’s interviews and hope for the best (but fear the worst) for the photos. Inconsolable, the Beaconite called her father, a long-time journalist in Minnesota, to ask for his wisdom. “Well, it could be worse,” he said. “In 1978, I got arrested for ticket scalping while writing a Bob Dylan concert review.” Finally bailed out after three hours in the St. Louis County Jail, he said, he finally made it back in time for the encore and still wrote the review, setting an example for dedicated journalists everywhere. But in the end, it’s better for all of us to, as Bob Dylan once said, “stay away from those that carry around a fire hose.” Even so, the outcome wasn’t as bad as it could have been: Although the cameras didn’t survive the ordeal, photographs on their memory cards did, and can be viewed on page one.