The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) and the Media Association of Jamaica (MAJ) want the presiding judge in the Jolyan Silvera murder case to reverse her decision to essentially bar the media and members of the public from the courtroom in the high-profile matter.
Silvera, has been charged with the murder of his wife Melissa, at their Diamond Court, Stony Hill, St Andrew residence in November last year.
He made his first appearance in court on Thursday, six days after he was hit with the murder charge.
However, journalists and family members who arrived at the Home Circuit Court in downtown Kingston were told by Justice Vinette Graham-Allen, the presiding judge, that she would not grant permission to cover the case at this time.
Other than citing judicial discretion, the judge has not offered reasons for her decision and the two leading media organisations in the country are urging Justice Graham-Allen to immediately change course in the interest of justice.
According to the PAJ, she should do so now unless there is a compelling explanation and justification.
“If that is the case, the public must be informed what this is,” said the association that represents journalists.
The PAJ, in a statement, argued that the principle of open justice is extremely important in Jamaica, where any member of the public should be free to observe court proceedings, except in exceptional circumstances. This, it said serves as oversight for the judiciary and helps maintain public confidence in the justice system.
Silvera is a former member of parliament who won the St Mary Western seat on a People’s National Party (PNP) ticket in the 2011 general election. He served one term until February 2016 when the PNP lost the general election to the Jamaica Labour Party.
Despite being overlooked by the PNP in the 2020 general election, Silvera had remained active in the party and was publicly campaigning for the PNP ahead of the local government elections due by latest February 28.
The PAJ has pointed to the high-profile nature of the murder case and has stated that it is critical that the proceedings be open to public scrutiny to help maintain confidence in the justice system in general, and in the conduct of the case in particular.
“No reason has been given why this case should be an exception to the open justice principle. We see none, and believe that in fact, this case is a prime example of one which must be carefully scrutinised by the media and the public. We therefore call for an immediate reversal of this decision,” the PAJ said.
For its part, the MAJ which represents media organisations, wants journalists to be immediately allowed into the courtroom to cover the case.
The MAJ has expressed “bewilderment that such discretion would have been applied in this already very high-profile case.”
“It is very important that the public is afforded high transparency on this very public matter with implications on public sentiment towards the judiciary and governance of the country,” it said.
The MAJ has warned that a closed hearing will lead to speculation on the part of the public which may do greater harm than whatever concern the judge has sought to mitigate.
“The judiciary must always be mindful of its own often repeated adage: justice must not only be done, but it must also appear to be done.
“We call on the judiciary to reconsider or provide clear reasons for continuing to uphold this divergence from normal practice. This very unfortunate decision has grave press freedom implications for the country, especially given the case’s high profile and connection to the country’s governance,” said the MAJ.
It was first reported that Melissa had died in her sleep on November 10 but family members insisted that the 42 year old chemical engineer and mother of three boys was in good health. An autopsy conducted three weeks later revealed three bullet fragments inside her body and the police have said ballistics tests have connected those fragments to Silvera’s licenced firearm.
The police said they also uncovered evidence that the crime scene was cleaned, the bedroom painted and the tiles replaced. The furniture was also reportedly replaced.