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Saturday 7 December 2019
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Inquiring into a non-inquiry

PRIME MINISTER Dr Keith Rowley will not accede to a request placed before him by the Law Association for the formation of a fact-finding tribunal in relation to allegations against Chief Justice Ivor Archie. But that decision notwithstanding, lingering questions over the need for reform of the criminal justice system and the Constitution remain.

We are of the view that the State and the judiciary, including Archie, have much to account for when it comes to the abysmal failure to bring about meaningful transformation of the criminal justice system.

The murder spree this week alone – which touched figures as diverse as veteran theatre stalwart Raymond Choo Kong to a woman working at a KFC branch – underlines the fact that energy, effort and expense would be better directed at addressing the crime crisis facing us. Now is not the time for the criminal justice system to humour internecine intrigue based on personality, politics or warped policy priorities.

Rowley’s statements on the question of the appointment of a tribunal under section 137 of the Constitution is hardly likely to be the last word on this matter.

There is some merit in the procedure envisioned under section 137. That section relates to the question of whether there are adequate facts to justify the referral of the matter to the Privy Council for a final determination. A preliminary tribunal probe could potentially be a useful device to resolve the matter.

However, section 137 does not appear to provide guidance on the threshold that has to be satisfied in order for a sitting prime minister to invoke it. Should a prime minister conduct their own factual or legal inquiry before deciding? How extensive should such activities be? Additionally, what is the role of the Law Association, a statutory body which has an important function in our society?

It is all a reminder of the need for clearer rules and procedures governing not only how legal officials are held accountable but also how the executive interacts with the judiciary. Some will say it all shows there is not enough judicial autonomy.

All would do well to focus on the dismal state of the penal system, with its high rate of recidivism, its failure to rehabilitate, the problems in relation to the protection of witnesses, the low detection rate, the low conviction rate, the system’s inability to handle sophisticated forms of white-collar crime, the inefficiencies in courtrooms, the daily collapse of cases due to inadequate police and prosecutorial resources, the strain on the forensic facilities, the rise of gangs, the proliferation of guns, the continued award of state contracts to underworld figures, the perception of criminals acting with impunity, the brazen killing of citizens in broad daylight on the streets of our capital city.

It is hoped these matters can be addressed as a matter of priority ahead of anything else.

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