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It’s time for dialogue for a better judiciary

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

We have been witnessing truly baffling events involving some of our most senior judicial leaders. The crude pantomime involving the appointment and, soon afterwards, the resignation of Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar for the role of High Court judge seems to have just opened the floodgates to a series of damaging events. This is not helped by the fact that, as reported exclusively by the Sunday Guardian, we now know she claims she was effectively forced to resign.

In an unprecedented move in our legal system, the Law Association of T&T called for the scalp of the Chief Justice Ivor Archie as well as members of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission following the Ayers-Caesar’s appointment debacle.

Since then, we have also seen questions raised over Justice Frank Seepersad’s rulings on injunctions related to property tax and the swearing in of two new judges.

The Law Association has since come to the defence of Justice Seepersad and has urged caution, especially from the media, not to react to social media posts which may “only serve to undermine public confidence in the judiciary.”

As the very body that passed a no-confidence vote on the highest judge in the land and called for his resignation, it is a bit rich to see the Law Association raising concerns over how media reports may undermine confidence in the justice system. After all, with its helping hand, this horse has bolted already.

However, the Law Association has a point.

A powerful indicator of a country’s governance is the confidence its citizens place in its judiciary. After all, if no one believes that the justice system can be effective and fair, citizens will have no hope of seeing governments not straying from the law or simply seeing their cases heard properly.

This alone is a very powerful reason for all concerned to pause and consider carefully what is happening to our justice system and how best deal with the situation.

First of all, let’s be frank. It has been clear for a while that our justice system needs urgent attention. No functioning society can consider it normal that those accused of crimes can be kept in jail awaiting trial for longer than what the maximum term of the prison sentence would carry if found guilty. This not only is unfair but also shows that the cogs of our justice system are not working, further undermining confidence in the system.

It will not be easy but now is the time to act.

We urge all those with responsibility for ensuring our legal system is trusted and works well to set aside their differences and embark on a meaningful and non-partisan review and, where needed, reform of our judiciary.

This must involve the President, the government, the opposition, the Law Association and civil society’s major stakeholders so that it is both representative of the nation’s interests and not undermined by anyone.

Sadly, our two main political parties continue to display little or no intention of stopping their kindergarten politics instead of having a grown up and truly non-partisan approach for the sake of this country’s future. Perhaps this is the time they could prove us wrong and swap the grandstanding for dialogue.

We also need to see the Law Association taking a leading role not by throwing stones but by putting forward meaningful and inclusive proposals. And, even better, we must see our most senior judges, including Chief Justice Archie, engaging with stakeholders in an open and approachable way.

Get this right and the people of Trinidad and Tobago will not only trust their justice system but will also increase their respect for our politicians and legal professionals. Get this wrong and we move one step closer towards a less governable, more corrupt and potentially failed state, with citizens having no respect for the country’s most important institutions.


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