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Rigor judicis

REGINALD DUMAS Monday, July 17 2017

ON APRIL 12, after the swearing-in of three new judges (Marcia Ayres-Caesar, Avalon Quinlan-Williams and Kevin Ramcharan), the Chief Justice (CJ) deplored what he called “unfair and uninformed criticism” of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC), and confidently asserted that the commission’s process for selection of judges was “one of the most rigorous…anywhere in the region or the Commonwealth.” Part of this process was “a rigorous interview” in which, a May 10 JLSC media statement told us, “candidates are routinely asked when, should they be successful, they would be in a position to assume duty, having regard to their outstanding professional commitments. It is a question that requires full and frank disclosure…” However, as I noted in a previous article, Ayres-Caesar, whom the JLSC interviewed on January 17, says it was only on April 10 that the CJ first asked her about her part-heard matters; on April 11 she replied she had 28 such.

So, although late in the day, the CJ knew about this unfortunate situation before the April 12 swearing-in. Why then didn’t he simply postpone the ceremony? And why, as appears obvious, didn’t Ayres-Caesar previously volunteer any information on the subject? Wasn’t she concerned about the negative implications of her silence for those who had been appearing before her? She now alleges that she was constructively dismissed from her judgeship, and calls in aid section 137 of the Constitution, which deals with the removal from office of a judge.

I leave that to her and the person I hear is her legal adviser, who is infinitely skilled in the subtleties of the Constitution.

For his part, the Prime Minister has now signalled that the construction of walls, whatever their nationality, between the Executive and the Judiciary may not be the best solution to the problem.

We await government action.

As for the Quinlan-Williams issue, Martin Daly and I have requested the JLSC to release the report of the tribunal that considered a charge against the then magistrate.

We note that the Service Commissions Department has refused to make it public. We will be coming back to this.

What of Ramcharan’s tweets? If judges are supposed to be among our prime exemplars, how does one view his tweets about women’s buttocks and (apparently) vaginas, made since his appointment as a judge? He is reported as having recently deactivated his Twitter account. Does that make a difference where his publicly known sexual tastes are concerned? The CJ has said that among the selection criteria used by the JLSC is “mature and objective judgment.” Does Ramcharan’s behaviour satisfy this standard? The CJ also said that an element of the “rigorous” selection process was “a psychometric assessment,” designed to assess the candidates’ “emotional balance and decisiveness.” My dictionary tells me that psychometrics is “the science of measuring mental capacities and processes,” which, although one might concede a degree of similarity, doesn’t seem quite the same thing as the CJ’s definition.

Could someone help? The CJ should also refrain from giving the impression that he is blaming others for the manifest shortcomings of the JLSC in this whole affair. Early o’clock, he threw Ayres-Caesar under the bus, then, as if shifting responsibility, wrote the Law Association to say it was the President who appointed judges. That is constitutionally true, but the President does so “in accordance with the advice of the (JLSC).” He has no discretion in the matter; in effect, it is the JLSC’s word that prevails.

And now, the commission’s attorney says that the JLSC’s May 25 release was incorrectly worded, which could suggest this was the fault of the court protocol and information manager, who issued the release. But didn’t the CJ approve it beforehand? The JLSC’s handling of this matter has been singularly incompetent. The boast of a “rigorous” selection process was clearly farcical: “routine” questions were apparently unasked, judicial choices were made which engender discomfort, absurdities and contradictions (perhaps untruths, too) taint official communications etc. Rigour should be made of sterner stuff. The image of the Judiciary has been considerably sullied.

Is there now a functioning JLSC? Constitutionally, the commission has five members, of whom three form a quorum.

But now, after two resignations, there are only three members, and you cannot, in my view, have a quorum of a quorum.

Two of the three, the CJ and the Public Service Commission chairman, are ex officio members, which means that even if they resign, the President has to reappoint them to any new JLSC.

Only if the CJ resigns as CJ or is removed under section 137 can there be the transition so many are clamo u r i n g for, and, u n l e s s something dramatic develops, I don’t see either event happening.

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