Fitzgerald Hinds, our beleaguered Minister of National Security, has been reported as stating the following on the Brent Thomas case:
“Criminals have friends everywhere in this country. They have them in the Police Service…in the Customs…in Immigration…in the Defence Force…in the Judiciary…in the Parliament.”
The statement has generated considerable perplexity and resistance from different quarters of society, particularly members of the Judiciary, lawyers, the Opposition, and the judge himself.
And such pushback is proceeding without Hinds providing the public with any evidence of his charge. Indeed, even if he has the evidence, it does not appear he can defend it.
And so, with his craw apparently full to overflowing, he chose to get his charge out even if he risked inflaming his detractors. He could then stand his ground while claiming he didn’t call any names.
It appears also that, since he must have known that his charge would trouble public trust in the Judiciary, even to the point of generating public opprobrium for judges and magistrates (and policemen, soldiers, and parliamentarians, for that matter), he thought his unsupported (and probably unsupportable) charge was worth the price of public outrage.
Hinds did not make a literal charge that there are corrupt judges around, but that message was received nonetheless by many. How did that happen?
His statement has at least two senses: one literal, the other pragmatic.
In the literal sense, he’s telling us that, as Minister of National Security, he has information that criminals have friends everywhere in the country, but especially in five areas: Customs, Immigration, the Defence Force, the Judiciary, and Parliament.
He can tell us so because, as Minister of National Security, he’s in a position to know and because he has determined that it is information we will want to have, if we don’t already have it.
But why will we want to have it? He doesn’t tell us, so we have to have recourse to a pragmatic interpretation, which will comprise a set of inferences entailed in his literal statement, which inferences he considers to be shared by society and his good self.
One inference is that those five areas are so sensitive to the proper governance of the country that it is unacceptable that criminals should have friends in them.
For example, we generally hold that it is unacceptable for a criminal to be friends with a judge.
A second inference is that criminals, already corrupt, would corrupt customs officers, immigration officers, soldiers, judges, and parliamentarians if they became friends with these gatekeepers of society.
This is because of two things principally: 1) we have come to believe that human nature is greedy in that it predisposes us to illegally acquire as much material wealth as possible, even at the expense of the happiness of others; and 2) history teaches us that social evolution and expansion are ineluctably accompanied by corruption.
A third inference is that Brent Thomas, the firearms dealer whose constitutional complaint was upheld by the Court (Rampersad, D J), may have had his complaint upheld because he is friends with the judge.
These inferences amount to a pragmatic interpretation of Hinds’ charge. Since the literal sense is clearly insufficient communication-wise, Minister Hinds must have been relying on our pragmatic sense.
He didn’t call names, but then he didn’t need to since he had the advantages of the public’s pragmatic interpretation. A pragmatic reading of a literal message is normal in all societies.
In T&T, if a taxi driver told a passenger he has just picked up that she was still outside, she would open the door and close it properly this time for she would interpret the taxi-driver’s message to be that she hadn’t closed the door securely the first time.
Consider this other example, which is a little more complex. A crime reporter reports as follows:
“The gunman roll down the back window and spray the men in front of the building.”
The reader understands that the two events, “rolling down” and “spraying”, have already occurred and are in the past even though there is nothing on the verbs that indicates past time–or anything else for that matter.
So that we may interpret the reporter to be interested not in the time of the actions but rather in their immediacy/vividity. That’s a pragmatic interpretation of the tenseless grammar.
Rampersad, D J denies that he has criminal friends and shows he has caught Hinds’ pragmatic message when he says:
“(W)hen one of its own officers, in the context of discussing a case before the court, a case which is not yet completed before the court, says to the nation that criminals have friends in the judiciary, the obvious intention is to more than just criticise the judiciary but to go further to suggest that, in some way, illegality is influencing the decisions of these judges, masters and magistrates, thereby jeopardising the Judiciary as a whole.”
Winford James is a retired UWI lecturer who has been analysing issues in education, language, development, and politics in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean on radio and TV since the 1970s. He also has written hundreds of columns for all the major newspapers in the country. He can be reached at email@example.com