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The erosion of sub judice and human contact

The year 2018 has arrived and with it a tsunami of sexual harassment, assault and inequality allegations, which are rocking our institutions and interpersonal relationships.

Media, from Twitter to television and Facebook to the front page has replaced our courtrooms. Allegations, once out there, become gospel. Reputations are carpet bombed. New catchy campaigns from #MeToo to #TimesUp have become dangerously fad-like.

“These allegations have not been proven in court . . .” is a weak, transparent disclaimer often buried deep into a column about the latest lawsuit against a person exposed and banished overnight from any limelight and workplace before any opportunity to file a statement of defence.

Let’s stop here.

I am not a supporter of or apologist for sexism, racism, harassment, inequality, brutish behaviour or denigration by anyone, male or female, especially those in powerful, authoritative or positions of trust. 

I do, however, believe that a fair process that does not pre-judge or jump to conclusions is an antidote against a crushing storm of innuendo and guilt by accusation. 

I realize that there may be little sympathy for an alleged abuser or perhaps even this opinion. I realize also that an unfairly ruined life or tragedy of suicide may carry little weight in a world of many victims’ ruined lives.

Nevertheless, we have a judicial system to promote discipline against quick judgment of those who have allegedly shown none.

The sub judice rule that has long tempered public comments is now seemingly meaningless and ignored. When one commences a lawsuit, we are asking a court to decide on the issues, which are under judicial consideration. The pattern now seems to be that one commences a legal proceeding and seeks support of the allegations by public opinion, use of petitions, press conferences and “likes” in social media. This borders on contempt. Some articles about alleged behaviours these days suggest that “victims” choose civil litigation rather than the criminal justice system because of the latter’s more rigorous burden of proof . . . not to mention the presumption of innocence.

Our civil courts must enforce the sub judice rule.

The media and litigants should be dissuaded, indeed perhaps sanctioned, especially if allegations are not substantiated. Litigants should accept that their allegations must only unfold in a courtroom.

Unregulated media outlets must now start to police themselves and refuse to publish irreparable, unproven character assassinations. Otherwise, these institutions themselves risk disrespect and failure when a different story becomes more reliable.

We need to look no further than the United States to witness the damage that can be done.

The astonishing, undisciplined and disgraceful method of communication by the president of the United States of America has undermined the institution he serves and indeed harmed his nation. 

He is apparently allowed to carry on unchecked and unchallenged, licensed to say whatever he wants about whomever he wants, sheltered by his Twitter account.

Unfortunately, this type of social media interchange and personal attack are not simply the purview of Donald Trump. They are pervasive everywhere in our society, akin to poisonous headlines without any story to back them up. We seem to be licensed by social media.

On another level, I am concerned that we are being programmed to avoid human contact.

This is not surprising.

Driverless cars, Alexa to turn on the lights, Siri to avoid looking it up and the ever-expanding iPhone to replace even dangling conversations are part of everyday life. We are becoming individually isolated in our society, cautious and withdrawn from respectful dialogue.

Commencing with the public dissemination of allegations against certain well-known personalities, an unrelenting wave of similar allegations continues to emerge almost daily. Many courageous women and, indeed, men, have come forward to finally jettison their long hidden and misplaced shame.

Predictably, there now has emerged a public debate about whether this has gone too far.

No matter how this debate is resolved, there is a very troubling side-effect. We are withdrawing from interpersonal relationships in our workplace and communities. Certain human resource manuals in some businesses are being re-written to caution against unwelcome social interchange with, for example, strict time measurements imposed on physical contact, such as a brief embrace.  Salutations are now halting. Innocent humour can be a danger zone.

The nations of the world are regrettably becoming politically isolationist. I sense that individuals in our global communities are moving in the same direction.

I am concerned that we will soon choose to engage only by electronic means or, heaven forbid, resemble in any way, a puritanical Handmaids Tale society of government regulation between men and women.

The year 2018 has begun with a resolve to change behaviour that has victimized too many for too long.

Regrettably, 2018 risks becoming a year of estrangement, limited dialogue and halting interactions for fear of misinterpretation, public accusations and social media run amok.