Justice Frank Seepersad has sought to clear the air on his call for laws to hold parents responsible for their children’s criminal actions during a recent sermon at the Marabella Presbyterian Church.
Seepersad, a lay minister for the past 20 years, made the comment while speaking on Parental and Youth Accountability.
But the comment generated a lot of attention, including from the Judiciary which issued a statement advising that Section 57 (1) to (5) of the Children Act No. 12 of 2012, as well as the Miscellaneous Provisions (Supreme Court of Judicature and Children) Act, 2018, which amends Part IX A Section 50 A (3) of the Children Act, provide for such parental responsibility.
Though acutely aware of the legislation the Judiciary referred to, Seepersad, in a letter to the editor, said he made no specific reference to Section 57 for two specific reasons. Firstly, he said it was a sermon and not a legal presentation.
“Secondly and more importantly, section 57 vests the Court with a discretion, which may or may not be exercised by the presiding judicial officer. This discretion exists in the context of the rehabilitative approach which has to be adopted and does not create a criminal offence. The sermon focused on the need for accountability at all levels and in relation to the issue of parental responsibility and accountability, called for consideration to be given to the enactment of more effective laws so as to impose sanctions on those whose children are involved in gang activity, harbour guns at home or who create social havoc.
“Such a circumstance is not covered by section 57 of the Children’s Act and it was advanced that in the absence of such a legislative framework, the common law could be creatively utilised. The sermon also referenced section 50(a) of the Miscellaneous Provisions 2018 Act, given that it was expressly stated that in relation to children who are not listening, their parents should inform the police and “let the judicial system take hold them so that a structured path to rehabilitation could be engaged.”
Seepersad said the code of ethics governing judicial officers underscores the ability of judges, outside of their court work, to speak on matters of law and to engage in teaching and training.
“Drawn to the jurisprudential theory of legal interpretivism and being resolute in the view that the law has to be relevant and relatable, the overriding objective of the sermon was to initiate a reasoned debate in relation to the root causes of the current state of social disjunction, to encourage a willingness for greater societal support to those who are vulnerable and to develop within the society, the temerity to confront those who enable criminal conduct.”
Turning his attention to the Judiciary’s statement on this matter, he said, “The timely press release by the Judiciary on this issue, given the deafening silence on other significant matters of national importance which impact upon the administration of justice, is indeed refreshing and it is hoped that all issues which impact, inter alia, upon the public’s confidence in the Judiciary, would be addressed with a renewed measure of alacrity.”
Under Section 57
Where a child is convicted of an offence and the Court is of the view that the parent, guardian or person with responsibility for the child has failed to exercise reasonable care of or supervision over the child to ensure that the child does not commit an offence, the Court may call upon the parent, guardian or person with responsibility for the child to show cause why he should not be required to pay a fine in addition to that which is to be paid by the child or for the child by order of the Court and if the parent, guardian or person with responsibility for the child fails to show good cause, the Court may order—
(a) the parent, guardian or person with responsibility for the child to pay a fine to the Court; (b) the parent, guardian or person with responsibility for the child to attend counselling on such terms as the Court may order; and (c) with the consent of the parent, guardian or person with responsibility for the child, to enter into a recognisance to take proper care of the child and to exercise proper supervision over the child.
(3) Where a parent, guardian or person with responsibility for the child refuses to enter into a recognisance and the Court considers the refusal to be unreasonable, that person commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of five thousand dollars.
Under the Miscellaneous Provisions (Supreme Court of Judicature and Children) Act, 2018, which amends Part IX A Section 50 A (3) of the Children Act, a parent, guardian or person with responsibility who is unable to control the child, may apply to the court for an order deeming the child to be a child in need of supervision.