COMMENTARY BY JUSTICE HERBERT VOLNEY
In the wake of the recent decision of the Prime Minister not to invoke constitutional provisions that could have led to the impeachment of Chief Justice Ivor Archie comes news of judge shopping to replace the judge assigned two years ago to preside over the case brought against him by former judge and Chief Magistrate Marcia Caesar-Ayres.
I have heard of the inexplicable double transfer of Justice David Harris to Tobago and that of Justice Peterson from the Family Court to the civil court. On the face of it there can be no complaint. However, if what is in circle in legal and judicial circles is proven to be true with the assignment to Judge Peterson of the Caesar Ayres docket, citizens have just cause to be alarmed.
It means that there has been a manipulation of the civil court system to the potential advantage of the Chief Justice who has the authority to do so. All who work in the system know how it can be manipulated and corrupted to place certain matters before certain judges. This is not how it is meant to work according to the Rules but who follows the rules in this errant Republic of ours.
It is said that Judge Harris is fiercely independent and this has caused the Chief Justice sleepless nights in view of the sworn offerings against him and the debilitating consequences for him if they are found to be true.
Do you remember when the Speaker ruled the seat of St Joseph vacant and as MP I threatened to take him to Court under the Constitution? Do you remember that I did not? I was a judge once and wise enough to doubt that my case would be placed before a Rules-generated Judge to give me the Justice according to law.
There was no final appeal to the Privy Council and I did not trust the system and this is meant to be an indictment against it for the same reason I’ve referenced what to date can only be classified as an attempt to move judges around for an inexplicable reason in an equally high profile case. Such is my distrust of the man at the helm of the system and one cognitive reason why the President of the Court of Appeal should never hold the Office of Chief Justice.
When the Attorney General of a country and its Chief Justice become very close with benefits accruing to judges through substantial improved terms and conditions of service tellingly arising during the currency of that proximity, one would be foolhardy to fight a cause against him. I bowed out with my grace much to the chagrin of my constituents and Jack Warner rather than risk my life’s acquisitions to a ruthless former Cabinet colleague.
Archie now presides over a deeply divided Judiciary
With the Prime Minister’s summary dismissal of the Law Association’s petition, he protected ‘one ah we boy’ from Tobago against a compelling case to the contrary. So Chief Justice Archie has survived for now.
The new Law Term 2019-20 opened this week with pomp and splendour. The profession supporting Archie in this personal mess were there. The rest were not. Sadly, Archie had been forced to rehash more of the same as he has done year after year for the last decade. He now presides over a deeply divided Judiciary with his deputy and the next most senior judge reportedly corresponding with him by email with all formalities included. How can a Judiciary be administered in this way?
Perhaps the most serious failure of this third arm of constitutional government has been in the administration of the criminal justice itself. It is not good enough for the Chief Justice to refer to how many cases were completed in the course of the last year. He has not commented on the fact that insurmountable backlog of pending serious cases has long passed the threshold for the delivery of justice. He has not addressed the solutions and for that has become the problem.
As leader of the Judiciary, he told KAMLA something in my absence that caused her to dismiss me. Up to this day as we crossed that seventh anniversary of that day of ‘subterfuge and infamy’, I am none the wiser for what he told her that poisoned her mind. For it, preliminary inquiries from colonialism remain, and not one extra courthouse has been built. He sowed the wind and now reaps the whirlwind.
The Chief Justice has not spoken to the oppression and injustice suffered upon my fellow citizens for detention without bail for more years than what might be the maximum sentence on conviction. He is the Chief Justice and ultimately the keeper of the key. He has not spoken about the incomplete Remand Court under construction for years that would’ve saved taxpayers millions of dollars paid to a security firm to continue transporting prisoners to court to be further remanded.
The Chief Justice has not said how he is going to address these matters of oppression and injustice that Section 34 was enacted to deal with by leveling the field of justice. He speaks to specially invited guests in the Convocation Hall in their nice suits and dresses.
What he needs to do under the dark clouds over the Judiciary is to look into the eyes of the mothers, wives, fathers, and children of those dying in jail unconvicted of any crime and unlikely to be tried in the next fifteen years.