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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Last Tuesday, the Guardian reproduced some of the questions that were asked of prospective judges for our High Court.

While one can note that there is a Common Entrance policy for all judges, what was most surprising was that the examination itself had some Common Entrance questions that would be asked of 11-year-old students, rather than applicants for the High Court bench.

This information came from a Freedom of Information request that had been made by Senator Gerald Ramdeen back on April 7 when he raised questions about the criteria being used by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) to recommend appointments for the High Court bench to the President.

Ramdeen was roundly criticised at the time for daring to question the judicial establishment about the processes that it employed in making these appointments.

Indeed, on the day of the swearing-in ceremonies for Marcia Ayers-Caesar, Kevin Ramcharan and Avason Quinlan-Williams on April 12 instant, Chief Justice Ivor Archie said:

“It is important as well that the public knows that anyone who is appointed has been through one of the most rigorous selection processes you can find anywhere in the region or Commonwealth.”

Since that time, the public has found out a lot more about “one of the most rigorous selection processes you can find anywhere in the region or Commonwealth” and quite frankly, it is disturbing.

Instead of questions about legal philosophy involving matters such as the views of Montesquieu on the separation of powers, potential judges were being asked questions about the cost of a bat and ball that cost $1.10 together where the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball, so how much does the ball cost? Really?

In a twenty-first century democracy, potential judges, according to last Tuesday’s Guardian, also had to be “reminded of the need to use proper language, correct spelling, standard grammar and orderly, legible and neat presentation” of their work. That is a responsibility that should come naturally with professionalism and nobody at that level should be reminded about that. Indeed, it should not be stated and anyone who presents such work should have marks deducted for such sloppiness.

Such a caution ought to have been given to whoever prepared the ballot paper for the Law Association on June 1 instant.

The entire examination should be restructured to permit applicants to be tested on (i) principles of legal philosophy (to test for knowledge of the major principles in the law), (ii) the criminal and civil codes (to test for knowledge of the application of the law), (iii) judicial-opinion writing (to test for the ability to write effective judgments after being given potential decided outcomes that require a judgment to be written), and (iv) case-load management (to test the managerial ability of potential judges to manage their workloads in the interest of efficiency and justice). The examination could be held over two days to separate (i) and (ii) from (iii) and (iv).

There should be no need to test the numeracy skills of people who are holding senior positions as diverse as the chief magistrate or a registrar in the Family Division.

If there is a belief that numeracy skills are deficient at that level and require testing, then we have a bigger problem than we can imagine.

The common entrance policy for admission to the High Court can be improved to remove the Common Entrance approach to examining potential judges.

Based on what was revealed by the Guardian last Tuesday, there is no way that this examination process can be described as part of “one of the most rigorous selection processes you can find anywhere in the region or Commonwealth”.

While the Law Association announced last Monday the creation of a committee that its president Douglas Mendes said will try “to let the public know that it is assessing the system of appointments and not about the events of the last six weeks”, there can be no doubt that the committee has come about because of the events of the last six weeks.

That committee needs to ensure that its work product will not be viewed as a public relations exercise that is unlikely to address whatever ills exist in the administration of justice if their recommendations will be shelved with a polite thank you note from the relevant authorities.

That committee must understand that there is no consensus on the issue of changing from the CCJ to the Privy Council, that there is no desire by judicial authorities to appear before parliamentary committees, and that judges are tested on the most elementary matters in the name of academic rigour.

They must also address the culture of secrecy in the administration of justice and recognise that has to change towards greater transparency and accountability. Legislation cannot make that happen as Senator Ramdeen found out as he had to go to court to force requested information out of the Judiciary. Freedom of information and freedom of the press have exposed the travesty of the Common Entrance examination for the Common Entrance policy for the Judiciary.


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