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Scrap JLSC, appoint new body

Published: 
Saturday, June 23, 2018
Law body committee recommends:
Law Association President Douglas Mendes.

The Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) should be replaced with a more independent and transparent body.

This is the main recommendation made by the seven-member committee appointed by the Law Association to review the recruitment process for judges, magistrates and other legal officers employed by the State, such as the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Solicitor General Department and Chief Solicitor’s Department.

The committee, chaired by former Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Judge Desiree Bernard, yesterday presented its 67-page report on the issue to the Council of the Law Association at its office in Port-of-Spain.

According to the report, the committee recommended replacing the JLSC, which currently recruits and disciplines judges, magistrates and all State attorneys at Government ministries and agencies, with a new Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC).

While the JLSC currently comprises of the Chief Justice (CJ), the head of the Public Service Commission (PSC), a retired Appellate Judge and two persons with legal qualifications, the committee suggested that the JAC comprise of seven members. All the members except the CJ and the head of the PSC are currently selected by the President.

The seven members suggested are the CJ, a retired Court of Appeal Judge, a senior attorney nominated by the Law Association, an attorney selected by the President, a human resource professional and two outstanding members of civil society, who would be selected by the President after consultation with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.

Addressing members of the media at the event, Law Association President Douglas Mendes, SC, suggested that such a body would ensure that process is more democratic.

He said: “It is to expose the process to different voices and perspectives that the commission is not automatically exposed to now.”

Also speaking at the event, committee member Terrence Farrell stated that one of the most keenly debated recommendations was whether the CJ should remain as head of the body.

Farrell explained that they decided that the CJ should remain in place but that the new body should only focus on judges and magistrates as opposed to thousands of State attorneys as well.

Apart from replacing the JLSC, the committee also recommended that the new body should publish the eligibility criteria and the process of selection as there are no extensive official publications on the issues, currently.

Other major recommendations in the report include increasing the retirement age for judges from 65 to 70 and to allow judges to return to private practice after five years after resignation or retirement. Currently, the time period for doing so is 10 years.

“By extending the retirement age to 70, it would allow practitioners, who have met their financial obligations and are willing to give up a very lucrative practice, to enjoy what may be a ten year period on the bench,” Mendes said.

The report is now expected to be discussed by the association’s council, which would then decide whether to accept the recommendations or make amendments. The report will then be disseminated to the association’s members and members of the public. The association is expected to hold public consultations on the recommendations before it moves on to recommending that Parliament implement them.

ABOUT THE COMMITTEE

The committee was appointed by the association in June, last year, amid public furore over the short-lived judicial of former Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar.

After almost two weeks in the post, Ayers-Caesar was allegedly forced to resign amid protests over the 53 cases she left unfinished when she took up the appointment. Ayers-Caesar is currently suing Chief Justice Ivor Archie and members of the JLSC for allegedly pressuring her to resign.

The committee was chaired by former Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Judge Desiree Bernard and included attorneys Rajiv Persad, Rishi Dass, Vanessa Gopaul and Tracy Robinson. Economists David Abdulah and Terrence Farrell, also sat on the committee. The committee held public consultations across T&T and with several judicial stakeholders including current members of the Judiciary and retired judges.

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