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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Last week’s decision that the 53 criminal matters that were left incomplete before former Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar in order to facilitate her appointment as a judge must now all be restarted is a painful one for the accused people to bear.

A statement had been made earlier that the former chief magistrate was going to resume her position as chief magistrate in order to complete her unfinished caseload. The expectations of all the accused people before her court would have been raised by that official statement.

Then Senior Counsel Pamela Elder indicated that it was not so simple for that to be done. She said that she would go to court and advise Marcia Ayers-Caesar about the meaning of the legal term functus officio. Surprisingly that had not been considered by those who made the statement that she could simply saunter back into court and pick up from where she left off as though nothing had happened in between.

Former chief justice Michael de la Bastide saw no problem with the resumption of duty, while, apart from Elder, senior counsels Israel Khan and Martin Daly also saw serious problems with this approach.

The country had previously been assured by the Chief Justice that the appointment of judges was such that “anyone who is appointed has been through one of the most rigorous selection processes you can find anywhere in the region or Commonwealth”.

For daring to question the process, Opposition Senators Gerald Ramdeen and Wayne Sturge were cautioned by Public Utilities Minister Fitzgerald Hinds about criticizing the Chief Justice.

Writing in the Sunday Guardian on April 23 instant, Richard Lord reported that Hinds said that “he had noticed for some time ‘with increasing alarm and worry’ the position taken by MPs who are also members of the legal profession. He was referring to recent calls by Opposition Senators Wayne Sturge and Gerald Ramdeen for information under the Freedom of Information Act about the recent appointment of three judges”.

Hinds went further to say that he wanted the Law Association to speak out in defence of the Chief Justice because he felt that the adverse comments being made about Archie “can only have one effect, that is to bring disrespect and disdain and a diminishing of the reputation of the Judiciary”.

Soon after Hinds made those comments, Marcia Ayers-Caesar resigned as a judge on April 27 instant, which has now opened up a huge controversy about the administration of justice in this country. The intervention by Minister Hinds pre-dated the controversy however, by the time Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley faced Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Representatives on May 10 instant, he had to dial back the issue of the executive interfering in the Judiciary, that had been commenced by Minister Hinds two weeks before, when asked a question by Chaguanas West MP Ganga Singh. The exchange was as follows:

“Mr Singh: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Is the Government considering measures by which the over 50 part-heard matters before the former Chief Magistrate would be dealt with?

Hon Dr K Rowley: Madam Speaker, I want to make it abundantly clear that the specific matters to which the Member refers is a matter which resides entirely within the borders of the Judiciary and this Government maintains the Great Wall of China between the Executive and the Judiciary. [Desk thumping]” (Hansard, House of Representatives, May 10, 2017, pp. 8-9).

The Government has remained silent on the matter since the Prime Minister spoke however, it was apparent that the executive, through Minister Hinds, was gearing up for a war of words with Opposition Senators Sturge and Ramdeen prior to the embarrassments that have since exposed themselves at the doorstep of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission.

Perhaps the biggest embarrassment was the statement made by the Court Protocol and Information Manager, Alicia Carter-Fisher, who gave the assurance that the chief magistrates’ docket would not be adversely affected because there were no ongoing preliminary inquiries before the then chief magistrate prior to her elevation to the judicial bench and that “she had before her paper committals which could be continued by another magistrate”.

Last week’s decision intends to give priority to those outstanding cases about which Carter-Fisher was unaware on the basis of recognizing the hardship that has already been experienced by the accused by virtue of the ongoing nature of the cases and the painful reality of having them restarted de novo because of no due diligence.

The JLSC turned against Ayers-Caesar after her resignation as a judge on April 27 instant, and brutally criticized her for not being transparent with them. That has left unanswered the question of who is responsible for doing due diligence in a process that is “one of the most rigorous selection processes you can find anywhere in the region or Commonwealth”.

Now this matter is headed to court as the saga continues, while there is also a pending FOIA request. The society awaits the Law Association meeting on June 1 to hear what is the next instalment in this ongoing soap opera.


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