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Jamaica: Legal challenge to anti-gay law under way

Dane Lewis, head of the Jamaican LGBT rights group J-FLAG, reports on proceedings in the Jamaican Supreme Court, where Javed Jaghai, the group’s education and outreach officer, is challenging the constitutionality of the Jamaican “buggery law”:

Dane Lewis, president of J-FLAG, on YouTube video in the "We Are Jamaicans" campaign.
Dane Lewis, leader of J-FLAG

As Executive Director, I accompanied Javed to court on Tuesday, June 25, 2013, in order to get a first-hand account of the proceedings and also to explore the possibility for J-FLAG to formally join the proceedings in this landmark constitutional challenge. We will soon update you on the progress of this endeavour.

We were advised by our legal representative that the Chambers of Justice Carol Edwards would be too small to accommodate all interested parties and their lawyers, and as such we should try to limit the numbers of our supporters. This turned out to be true, and we had to move to a court room in order to accommodate the almost two dozen lawyers, including three Queens Counsels, and their clients.

The outside of the Supreme Court was full of media personnel who were eager for coverage of Javed and his team as they entered and exited the court. There was also a small but vocal group of women who expressed their opposition to any changes being made to the buggery law.

Javed Jagahi
Javed Jagahi

At last count there are eleven (11) interested parties opposing the claim who will be joining the Attorney General who represents the Government of Jamaica in constitutional matters such as this.

To this date they are:

  1.     Lawyers Christian Fellowship (LCF)
  2.     Hear the Children’s Cry (Betty-Ann Blaine)
  3.     Citizens for Truth and Justice (Catholics)
  4.     Love March Movement
  5.     Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS)
  6.     Jamaica Association of Evangelicals
  7.     Ethiopian Orthodox Church
  8.     Independent Churches (Bishop Adegold)
  9.     Holiness Christian Church
  10.   Christian Brethren Assemblies of Jamaica
  11.   Church of God in Jamaica.

Note: The Marcus Garvey Movement has applied to be joined as well but that application has not yet been served.

Lead Attorney for the claimant, Maurice Tomlinson, agreed that the groups should be allowed to join in the matter since the case is of national importance and therefore all views should contend.

Essentially, Justice Edwards collapsed a number of the groups into one and called them ‘The Church’. Only LCF, JCHS and Hear the Children’s Cry will be heard separately.

The content of Javed’s affidavit was brought into question as aspects were said to be hearsay and were therefore deemed offensive to the rules of evidence. The judge requested that the affidavit be amended to remove the offending parts and re-submitted to the court by Friday July 5, 2013. Another 3-hour case management session has been set for Friday October 4, 2013, to address the substantive administrative matters regarding the proceedings.

This is an exciting time for J-FLAG and the Jamaican Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) community in general as this case seeks to determine that the retention of the anti-buggery law in its current form is a contravention of our constitutional rights to privacy and equality before the law. The buggery law criminalizes certain sexual acts of consenting adults in private and this is something that J-FLAG and many of its partners in civil society finds to be an injustice and offensive to the concept of social equality.

We look forward to the resumption of this case and by our participation we expect to make an important contribution to the improvement of the quality of citizenship and life of LGBT Jamaicans.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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