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Mixed reactions to Govt’s plans for retired judges

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Plans by the Government to reduce the ten-year ban on judges practising law after they leave the bench, as well as a move to increase the age for them to retire are not sitting well with former chief justice Sat Sharma. However, president of the Retired Judges’ Association Zainool Hosein said he had no objections to the two improvements Attorney General Anand Ramlogan was trying to make in the Judges and Salaries Pensions Bill.



Ramlogan wants to shorten the ten-year period in which retired judges are debarred from practising law to a more reasonable and practical time of between three and five years, while increasing the retirement age from 65 to 70. The Sunday Guardian learned that the soon-to-be amended legislation has already received the approval of the Law Association, and its president Seenath Jairam confirmed that recommendations have already been forwarded to the AG’s office.


However, Sharma said he disliked the idea of judges going back to private practice and feels mediation and arbitration were more practical. “I don’t know if going back to private practice after three years or ten years in a small society like ours is really the right thing to do. I think the matter should be properly debated. Sharma said reducing the ban should not be done to please just a few. 


He said he would support the increase in the retirement age, “providing that the judges whose time is going to be extended must be intellectually robust to carry on.” Sharma said the judiciary should examine the mental and physical capabilities of those candidates. Sharma said it was not just about extending the age, but using discretion.


“It cannot be automatic, otherwise you might be repeating errors...aggravating errors with the candidates selected. What about when people start to say when these fellas start to weigh cases that they fraternising and something wrong with the judges? How is the client going to feel?” The public, Sharma feels, should have a say on the issue since they are the ones who would receive justice. 


“These things need to be thought out. It must be packaged in a logical way. They should not just pluck a figure out of a hat but look at the entire matter in a perspective manner.”



Hosein: No such ban on any other professionals
Hosein said he was not sure what criteria the Government would use to determine the reduction in the ban. “It seems to me that the same rationale for reducing to three to five years, it could support an argument for its entire removal. But I have already indicated to the Attorney General that we have no objection to the reduction of the ban to three to five years.” 



Hosein said he was concerned about judges who, having been prevented from returning to practice, found that their pension levels were inadequate for a reasonable standard of living. “I am not aware that there is any such restraint on any other class of professionals.” Before the ban was imposed, Hosein said, members of the judiciary had expressed their disapproval. While the age of retirement from the Supreme Court for judges is 65, Hosein said he believed the age for the Criminal Court of Justice was 70.


In England, he said, the courts have extended the retirement age to 72. Hosein said, “At age 65, judges are at the peak of their judicial career. I think with the additional five years the State or public would benefit from the extended experience, which is subject to good health. I think it is a very sound idea. I can personally see no reason against the re-appointment unless there are reasons we may not know about or why a certain judge may not be re-appointed.”


Hosein said the Judicial and Legal Service Commission would have to take into account judges’ bad decisions in court. “If a judge has been making elementary blunders and has conducted himself on the bench in an unpalatable or unprofessional manner, then they may feel disinclined.” Also welcoming the move to shorten the ban on judges was former High Court judge Herbert Volney who resigned from the bench in 2010. 


“I think ten years is obviously too long. I think there should be a cooling-off period of five years,” said Volney, who was fired as justice minister in 2012, following the controversial Section 34 matter. Told that the AG was trying to amend the legislation to facilitate him going back into private practice, Volney said he preferred to take up a judicial appointment with the Criminal Court in the Caribbean or Commonwealth than to practice law at the bar in T&T. “So this is not intended for me, not by any imagination.”


In a Sunday Guardian article in May, Volney shared a different view, stating that the move to reduce the ban “now allows me to return to practice and make a living.” Volney, however, did not agree with extending the judges’ retirement age. “At 65, the norm is that people go into retirement. They become slower and are not as productive as they would be if they were younger. I don’t think it is a move in the right direction.” Volney said young vibrant judges are needed on the bench.



“Under what merit the judges would be selected? It means you can pick and choose who is favourable and unfavourable. It is something that needs to be thought out, more than simply making the change.”


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