THERE IS some degree of disagreement over the proposal to abolish the court’s long vacation. Some judges and attorneys say they have no problem working through this year’s vacation because of covid19. In the same breath, they state the long-term proposal goes too far, endangers productivity, and impinges on family life.
We find this quarrel unwholesome and ill-timed, even if premised on the need for reform to the process by which vacation is approved. Abolishing the long vacation must come alongside a fair and watertight process by which individual judges can petition for leave.
Judges are to be praised for working through the long vacation this year. That agreement exudes the spirit the general public expects of the judiciary. It tells a tale of officials coming together to do what is in the public interest. Unfortunately, this same spirit has not spilled over universally when it comes to the amendment to the rules.
Instead of recognising the need to tackle the considerable backlog of cases, which has deepened the public’s perception of the legal system as being irredeemably inaccessible, some have taken to airing, albeit in internal communiques, grievances in a manner that feels insensitive and tone-deaf.
While legal eagles are raising their voices in defence of vacation, essential services have been called out, and citizens are facing the worst economic crisis in decades, with high rates of unemployment, and a crime wave which has been fuelled, in no small measure, by the belief of many that they may act with impunity because the courts are so addled and investigators so overwhelmed effective legal sanction is a rarity. Considering the consensus on this year’s vacation, is now really the right time to start grumbling over next year’s?
The judges do have legitimate reasons to be concerned about the impact the proposal could have on mental health and family life. Yet, the fact that they are willing to compromise this year, despite the obvious detrimental effects, shows that even they must admit there comes a time when you must be concerned with one’s wider responsibilities. While the long vacation system appears to have worked well for judges, it has not worked well for the people that matter most: the general public. Year after year, the Hall of Justice is turned into a ghost town while Rome burns.
The headway made in recent weeks, thanks to technology and innovation in court hearings, reflects the fact that there remains so much pressing work to do, with so many people, presumed innocent, on remand or indicted, awaiting, years after the fact, trial. In the face of this, the long vacation quarrel has sent a very bad signal.
The judiciary must, however, pay attention to concerns about possible abuse. The process of asking for leave should never be vulnerable to interference or favouritism. That means the introduction of a clear and transparent system, fair to all.