The reasonable Guyanese neighbour?

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Prepared by Teni Housty, Attorney-at-Law, LL.M.; MBA

Every year, in October and November, the numbers of the members of the legal profession increase. For the new members of the bar, admission is a time to communicate and state aspirations and intentions for a distinguished career in the law. For presenters of petitions, it is a time to provide guidance and advice on elements of the practice of law. For the admitting Judge, there is advice on the standards expected of a new practitioner and lamentation on the decline of elements of the profession. However, in most situations, there is silence on the reference to the basics of law taught in the first years of university studies. This contribution provides a reflection on two of the first principles in law which appears to be absent in Guyanese society today: The Neighbour and The Reasonable Man.

The Neighbour
The first principle is based on the extension of the second of the Greatest Commandments found in Mark 12:31 of the New Testament of the Holy Bible that:
”And the second, like it, is this: ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Emphasis added).
In Guyana today, it is humbly suggested that that love has been lost. When placed in the context of the law we reflect on the case of Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562 (First Year Law of Tort – The Snail and the Ginger Beer case) and the immortal words of Lord Atkin at page 580:
“The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law, you must not injure your neighbour…. Who then, in law, is my neighbour? The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.”
Who then, in Guyana, is my neighbour? As the response is considered, it must be observed that in Guyana we like to “Guyanese” certain concepts.

The reasonable man
This leads to the other foremost principle we learn in Law: that of the reasonable man. As English Law is the basis which forms part of the foundation of Guyana’s legal system, we are taught that the reasonable man is “the man on the Clapham Omnibus.” It has been observed that in the Gray’s Law Dictionary:
“The Man on the Clapham Omnibus, to a lawyer, is synonymous with the pinnacle of reason in humanity: an ordinary London transit rider as representative of all rational thought and action”.
To make this text applicable to your society you must add some context to it. So how do we, as Guyanese, embrace the traditional notion of the neighbour? The issue begs more complex and combined questions: who then is a reasonable Guyanese neighbour; and what are the rational thoughts and actions of the Guyanese East Coast minibus passenger?

The reasonable Guyanese neighbour
When the response is framed in the mind of any member of the Guyanese society, the answer will vary. It is not for the author to suggest the response; there are, however, certain glaring instances in which we are not the best neighbours, and rational thoughts as well as actions escape understanding. These might be a few:

  • road accidents of all kinds;
  • littering;
  • excessive noise;
  • passing a fallen person in a street and failing to render assistance;
  • the lack of timely responses from emergency services;
  • peeping and filming instead of helping (as some smartphone users do);
  • misapplication of principles of allocation of public and private finance; and
  • for the self-contorting, forgetting where you have come from and the duties owed to society as a whole.

There is a Crop Over song which was sung by Lil Rick in 2012 which says that “I like muhself real bad.” In Guyana, while we like ourselves, we should not forget that our neighbour is our friend, and let us have a fair concept of the Guyanese neighbour in our society. Share and spread the love.

Article Categories:
Columns · Issue 20 · Judiciary · Publication · Social Issues

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