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Lordy, we hope there are tapes

Monday, June 12, 2017

Now that former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar has responded to many of the issues surrounding her “resignation”, through a letter to President Anthony Carmona reported in detail in yesterday’s Sunday Guardian, we can only conclude that the case against the Chief Justice and the members of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC) continues to strengthen.

There are obvious discrepancies between Ayers-Caesar’s recollection and that of Chief Justice Ivor Archie. Most glaring is their divergent memory of the conversation of April 10.

When asked by Archie whether she had an outstanding caseload at the magistracy, Ayers-Caesar recalls being “surprised”. Yet she claims that in just one day she found 28 part-heard matters at the Port-of-Spain Magistrate’s Court alone, and forwarded the list to Archie. Even then, she was still sworn in as a High Court Judge.

Archie, meanwhile, only remembers being told that the Chief Magistrate had “some paper committals that could easily be disposed of” and “three very short summary trials”.

Someone, it seems, has a faulty memory. In the immortal words of former FBI Director James Comey, one might be tempted to say: “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”

As head of the JLSC, the Chief Justice might be quite right to say that the body has no power or obligation to double-check Mrs Ayers-Caesar’s claims, but if even partially true, this new wrinkle in the embarrassing saga makes it seem even more certain that the JLSC was negligent, scarce resources notwithstanding.

Of course, Ayers-Caesar’s own letter also reveals that she is not without blame. She comes across as coy. Could it be that she was so intent on landing the job of puisne judge that she was blinded to the distress she might cause the many accused whom she’d be forced to abandon?

And to say that she was pressured into signing a resignation letter without the benefit of legal advice sounds absurd, coming as it does from an experienced magistrate.

Chief Justice Ivor Archie assumed his post with great promise. He was well received by bench and bar alike—the youngest ever to have assumed the position, energetic and with ideas to burn for improving a justice system that could do no better than limp along; neglected as it had been for decades. In January 2018, he will have been in office ten years.

While he can certainly point to improvements, the system remains a muddle when judged by 21st century standards.

Why, for example, is there no electronic means for checking a magistrate’s caseload at a moment’s notice? If this could have been done, rather than rooting around from one magistrate’s court to another in search of paper files, Ayers-Caesar would have been asked to present a plan for clearing up outstanding matters before she could have been elevated. And the JLSC would have had no excuse for its cursory oversight.

Perhaps this is a layman’s expectation. There may be very good reason it has not been done: A lack of funding, an unsympathetic political directorate, an obstinate civil service. But when accused men rot in jail while our brightest and best squabble over hiring practices, we can only cry shame.


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