Crime and punishment

TODAY’S date would normally occasion the pomp and circumstance of the opening of the law term. Judges would attend a religious service at the Trinity Cathedral, form a procession to the Hall of Justice, inspect a ceremonial guard, then convene at the Convocation Hall.

That is not the plan this year.

Instead, Chief Justice Ivor Archie is due to deliver a virtual address on October 1.

But before the Chief Justice even utters a word, clouds are gathering which he needs to dispel.

There has been some disagreement on the dates of the new term itself, with lawyers pushing back against vacation periods being cancelled.

Be that as it may, it is clear the courts are working. A ruling of major constitutional import was handed down last week, an appointment to the Court of Appeal announced this week and virtual hearings for key lawsuits scheduled.

Today, it is fitting to turn attention to the Hall of Justice not only because of the date but also because of the ongoing debate relating to matters of law and order, triggered by the problems that have emerged when it comes to delimiting and enforcing state power.

Lady Justice might be blind, but many feel the scales have been removed from their eyes.

Behind the nuances of what constitutes private versus public space is the perception – so often reinforced in the courts, given problems of access and representation – that there is one law for the rich, another for the poor.

Race and politics become enmeshed in such considerations, all undermining the projects of deterrence and fairness.

The fraught context of this pandemic crisis imposes a singular obligation on the judiciary to rise to the occasion, to be above the fray, when so much is uncertain.

We do not gainsay the fact that Chief Justice Archie’s tenure has seen changes and improvements, many worked on in collaboration with international agencies as well as the Executive.

Widespread virtual hearings, more consistent systems related to electronic filings, and greater facilitation of online payments are now in place, after other changes such as the introduction of Goodyear hearings, judge-alone trials, and the removal of preliminary inquiries.

Yet there is so much more to be done.

For example, it is one of the most important rulings on state power in recent times, yet Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh’s findings on covid19 regulations were, up to yesterday afternoon, not yet to be found on the judiciary website.

And the cause has not been aided by controversies relating to the need for even more transparent procedures relating to judicial appointments, as well as a strained relationship with the members of the Law Association.

These issues and more the Chief Justice must soon address.


"Crime and punishment"

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