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Elder threatens to burn robes

CAROL MATROO Monday, March 20 2017

Pamela Elder, SC, is calling on all judges to declare their assets if they are given the power to determine guilt or innocence.

“Power plus transparency”, Elder said. At the opening of the law term, last year, Chief Justice Ivor Archie made a call for abolition of the jury system. This did not sit well with several attorneys, including Elder, who threatened to burn her robes if the jury system was abolished.

The highly contentious Miscellaneous Provisions (Trial by Judge Alone) Bill, 2017, is being hotly debated in Parliament. Clause 6(1) of this Bill gives an accused person who appears before a judge in the High Court a choice. He can have a judge alone trial, or trial before a judge and jury. He can choose whether he wants a judge alone to decide his guilt or innocence. So, would it be judge verdict or jury verdict? Clause 6(1) provides: “Every person committed for trial shall be tried on an indictment and, subject to the provisions of this Act, shall be tried by a Judge and jury unless he elects to be tried by a Judge alone.” However, Elder said that once the jurisdiction of judges was expanded and they were empowered to decide whether an accused person was guilty or not guilty, they should be obligated to declare their assets.

“I say this with full knowledge of the High Court judgment of the then Honourable Madame Justice Judith Jones in which she ruled that the Integrity in Public Life legislation which made judges and magistrates subject to the Integrity Commission was unconstitutional. As a result of this judgment, judges and magistrates are not required to declare their assets with the Integrity Commissio,” Elder said.

In the Court of Appeal Judgment number 30 of 2008, the obligations of persons subjected to the Integrity in Public Life Act stated: “Persons who are subject to the jurisdiction of the Integrity Commission (the Commission) have onerous duties and responsibilities placed upon them. For instance, they are required to file exhaustive and detailed annual financial returns with the Commission in respect of themselves, their spouses and dependent children. Breaches of the provisions of the Integrity Act can be visited by severe penalties. By way of illustration, failing (a) to file the required returns, (b) to give information required by the Commission or (c) to attend an inquiry or (d) the giving of a false declaration are criminal offences punishable on summary conviction by a fine of $250,000.00 and imprisonment for ten years.

Individuals who are caught by the Integrity Act are also subject to a stringent code of conduct and to a thorough investigation by the Commission.” Elder said she was not casting any apsresions on the integrity of any judges, and did not doubt that they ensured the independence of the judiciary was maintained.

She said mandating judges to declare their assets served a dual purpose. First, she said, it protected judges against allegations that they accepted a bribe to determine the case in a particular manner, and secondly, it generated public confidence in the justice system by allaying fears that a judge alone verdict was as a result of corruption.

Elder said trust was not automatically bestowed on a person because of his/her status. She added that the mere donning of the judicial robe did not instill confidence in members of the public that the wearer of such a garment was not prejudiced, and had no human frailties which could influence his decision. Elder said the public must have confidence in the integrity of the justice system.



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