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Monday 23 October 2017
Editorial

A call for reason

THE JUDICIARY has many issues for which it can be and has been rightly criticised. A backlog of hundreds of cases, delays in trials, and procedures that are convoluted.

With a crime situation that has seen the murder toll for the year surpass 200, the criminal justice system as a whole has struggled to keep up. There is a low detection rate and, worse, a low rate of justice in the court.

As such the Judiciary, which does not control its own budget, now finds itself in a most precarious position. The State, unable to prevent and detect crime, is also unable to deter wrongdoing by demonstrating that justice will be done in each instance of murder. This means the very foundation of our society — the idea of law and order — is under siege. And, thus far, the criminals are winning.

It is in this context that we urge all involved in today’s meeting of the Law Association to let good sense prevail. Attorneys are entitled to raise serious issues which affect the ability of the Judiciary to function. But we echo the sentiments of senior counsel and immediate past president of the Law Association, Reginald Armour, who has warned against throwing out “the baby, the bath water and the tub” when it comes to the circumstances surrounding the appointment and then resignation of Marcia Ayers-Caesar.

“Given this opportunity, the institution itself and all who are legitimately joined in the debate are required to rise to the challenge with maturity to ensure that, while there must be forthright debate and criticism where due, that constructive tone and quality of content form the bedrock of all such criticism.”

Noting the threshold for removal is clearly set out in the law, Armour adds, “Simply stated, without burdening this commentary with the reams of judicial authority on the subject from throughout the common law Commonwealth, the apparent errors of process committed by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission in relation to Mrs Ayers-Caesar do not begin to approach this constitutional threshold.”

One cannot dismiss the fact that today’s meeting of attorneys has come about as a result of actors who are in some way or another directly affected by the decision to restart 53 court cases previously in the docket of Ayers-Caesar. While all are entitled to be members of political parties, in some cases the intersection between politics and the legal profession is perhaps too blatant, leading to the perception of apparent bias or suspicion of ulterior motives among individuals who may well subscribe to the highest tenets of impartiality within their practice.

We call for reason and temperance and the sober examination of the facts as they are known. We also warn against hasty conclusions or decisions that are disproportionate to what is at stake. Most importantly, however, we repeat our call for this ongoing discourse to be a practice for future action by all stakeholders.

While we do not know whether a large or small number of attorneys will turn out today (the trend has been to have a relatively small proportion of the overall membership attend), we note that it is a good thing when lawyers can be mobilised for a cause or to deal with an issue.

Now, all that has to happen is for this same spirit of collaboration to prevail when it comes to the real matters that are affecting citizens who, daily, live in fear of murder; who have a dismal view of the system of justice; who need to be reassured of the stability of the key, non-political arm of the State — the Judiciary. Why did the Chief Magistrate have 53 pending cases in the first place?

Lawyers meeting today must be mindful that while they are entitled to raise issues, they should also focus on the real problems that are mashing up the system. And not mash up the system too.

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