The latest round of appointments to the High Court bench and the ensuing fiasco raises the urgent need to find a constitutional mechanism to hold the Judicial and Legal Service Commission accountable. Steps must be taken with a far less leisurely timetable than the one recently suggested by the Law Association for making the appointments process more transparent.
The appointment, subsequent resignation and purported re-appointment of Mrs Marcia Ayers-Caesar, the former Chief Magistrate, as a magistrate is monumentally troubling.
It is unthinkable that the JLSC could be blissfully unaware of the impropriety of appointing or restoring someone to the judicial office of Magistrate after that person has admitted providing incomplete information to the JLSC in pursuit of appointment to the High Court bench.
On account of that impropriety alone the members of the Commission should consider whether they can credibly continue in office. Their decision to put back Mrs Ayers-Caesar will gravely undermine confidence in the administration of justice.
Members of the public will perceive that telling untruth by omission is not a disqualification for holding judicial office and will no doubt say: “If a Judge can lack candour, so can I.” It is the equivalent of “if the priest could play, who is we?”
It is not only the presence of the appointee back on the magisterial bench that brings the administration of justice into disrepute. The lack of discernment on the part of the appointing officials in putting Mrs. Ayers-Caesar back in the magistracy is equally or more damaging to the credibility of the Judiciary.
In making judicial appointments, how could the members of the Commission in the first place rely exclusively on what the applicant for office told them about the state of her list in her Magistrate’s Court?
Particularly because the decisions of a Judge are capable of affecting the life of every citizen, it was incumbent upon the Commission to do their own due diligence. In addition to the impropriety of foisting a person who misled them back on the public, the Commissioners were careless at the earlier stage when they were considering the appointment—and for that the public will pay dearly.
It should be emphasised that judicial appointments once made are difficult to unmake.
I should also point out that the statements about the state of the docket of the former Chief Magistrate are lacking in clarity. We have not been told with any precision what unfinished business she did disclose to the Commission and what unfinished business there actually was at variance with what was told to the Commission.
A not unduly suspicious person might conclude that an opaque explanation is conducive to a belief that Mrs Ayers-Caesar took the fall to protect others.
This is also an appropriate occasion to ask how could the Chairman of the Commission tout someone—however meritorious that candidate might be—as a future Chief Justice, as was recently reportedly done on a social occasion.
No candidate for judicial office should be perceived to have an inside track with the Commission or with persons in a position to lobby the President of the Republic in respect of any appointment of a Chief Justice that he might be called upon to make after appropriate consultation.
Statements made by the Chairman of the Commission about the rigorous selection process now lie in tatters. The case for the members of the Commission to demit office is overwhelming.
Editor’s Note: The present members of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission are:
(Chairman) The Honourable the Chief Justice Mr Ivor Archie (ex-officio member);
(Members) Dr Marjorie Thorpe, Chairman of the Public Services Commission (ex-officio member); Justice Roger Hamel-Smith; Justice Humphrey Stollmeyer.