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Jairam on judiciary furore: Judges make many sacrifices

Saturday, December 14, 2013
Seenath Jairam

Law Association president Seenath Jairam says judges are not the run-of-the-mill executives and he is totally against any comparison of them with the society at large. Jairam was responding yesterday to questions from the T&T Guardian on High Court judge Carol Gobin’s suggestion that the salaries of judges who were tardy in delivering judgments within six months of the conclusion of a case should be withheld.



Gobin, saying she was commenting in her personal capacity, made the recommendation to the National Constitution Reform Commission and also called for more openness and discussion concerning the appointment of prospective judges and for records of judgments delivered to be published.


Her recommendations come amidst claims from judicial sources that there is an orchestrated plot of remove Chief Justice Ivor Archie from office. The debate raged after convicted killer Lester Pitman wrote to the judiciary seeking to have Archie impeached on the ground that he had failed to deliver judgment in Pitman’s case for four years.


Social activist Diana Mahabir-Wyatt asked to comment on the statement by another newspaper, said she agreed because, for example, the average worker gets his end-of-year bonus based on his performance. She asked why judges should be different.  But Jairam argued that judges are not ordinary workers. 


“Judges are required to make a lot of personal sacrifices, withdrawing from many friends and the society generally, giving up a significant part of their social lives, restriction on their movements, limiting their social circle, living a virtual hermit-like lifestyle. “This is so because our society is relatively small and the perception of fairness cannot be seen to be contaminated or compromised.”


Jairam, however, agreed with Gobin that the judiciary needed to be more open, accountable, transparent and efficient. “Maybe the time has come for the appointment of more criminal judges, appellate judges, and possibly a Master of the Rolls, or similar office-holder.” He said judges needed time off to write judgments and a period of six months should be the upper limit to deliver reserved judgments and only in the most difficult cases.


The JLSC, he added, should be given express powers to deal with errant judges and the composition of the commission needed to be changed. Jairam said he felt it was healthy that the conversation concerning judges and the speedy delivery of judgments had started, but was afraid there was no simple solution. He identified experience, or lack thereof, as a possible problem. 



Jairam said 36 years at the Bar had taught him that experience was the life of the law and, unfortunately, the judiciary did not attract the most experienced lawyers. He added, though, “We have many good judicial officers who are hardworking and well respected and it is unfair to them to be tarred with the popular brush of delay.” 



Former Police Service Commission chairman and JLSC member Kenneth Lalla said the judiciary is, according to the Constitution, an independent body, but it does form part of the State and, therefore, has a responsibility to the State. At the same time, complaints about the judiciary and punitive measures against members should be directed at the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC). 



“Moreover, the judiciary is not a law unto itself and since the people constitute the State, they are entitled to a system that is swift, efficacious and fair.” Lalla felt withholding judges’ salaries for not delivering judgments on time was not the way remedies and sanctions ought to be applied, however. Asked specifically what state the judiciary was in, he replied, “The chaotic situation in which it is at the moment. 


“Justice delayed is justice denied and, in any event, the Chief Justice ought to direct his concerns over the proliferation of cases and inadequate mechanisms to deal more efficiently with them with the powers that be.” Lalla said complaints or dissatisfaction with the performance of the CJ should be raised in the appropriate quarters, like Parliament, the JLSC and even the President. He noted that the Pitman matter currently before the court precipitated the present situation.


“At least somebody raised the issue and it has been engaging the attention of the citizenry. Former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj said he supported action on the question of the delivery of judgments, but did not believe the matter should be used as a political tool to run Archie out of office. “He alone is not responsible for the delivery of cases. It’s the whole system that has to change. There should be rules for judges to deliver cases within a certain time frame,” he said.


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