The furore arising from the appointment as a High Court judge, subsequent resignation and the purported “restoration” of Mrs Marcia Ayers-Caesar, the former Chief Magistrate, as a magistrate has not died down. However, as the story emerges, public opinion now contains feelings of mercy for Mrs Marcia Ayers-Caesar.
I am not surprised by this development because I had raised early o’clock whether Marcia, as she is now popularly known, had taken the fall for the members of the JLSC.
Questions now on the public mind are: Was her resignation from the office of High Court judge delivered in coercive circumstances or was it unduly influenced—perhaps by the promise of restoration to the Magistracy, where she had been Chief Magistrate immediately before her appointment to the High Court?
Marcia has her own lawyers so it’s not the place of this column to advocate her cause in detail. But signing a letter of resignation in the circumstances as we know them so far, if done without independent legal advice at the time, raises some sympathetic presumptions that she may not have received fairness—albeit having allegedly misled the JLSC.
I remind readers that there are the unanswered questions, which the Senior Counsel Group have raised, such as by reference to what process and what legal provisions was the decision—apparently subsequently put into a state of suspension—made to “restore” or “return” her to the Magistracy?
These are relevant to what, if anything, was promised to Marcia, particularly if she was promised a restoration to the Magistracy—a restoration which possibly cannot now be lawfully delivered.
I do not however accept that she has remained a High Court judge. A court of competent jurisdiction has not set her resignation letter aside.
It is also necessary to return to the question of the JLSC’s due diligence obligations to make the point that these must be measured by the changed standards of candour in matters such as CVs, when there have been high profile cases of padding right here in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as doctorates by subscription.
The Marcia appointment is not the only issue in the public domain arising out of the recent round of appointments to the High Court. We have the additional major issue—first made current by a former Senate President, Mr Michael Williams—concerning what happened at a bail hearing before Mrs Avason Quinlan-Williams when she was a magistrate.
Mrs Quinlan-Williams has also been appointed a High Court judge. A report in last Sunday’s Express compares and contrasts the contents of a recording of what took place at a bail hearing before her as magistrate in 2009 and what Mrs Quinlan-Williams is reported to have testified at disciplinary proceedings against her related to the same hearing.
The JLSC reportedly sent Mrs Quinlan-Williams a letter stating that she was “exonerated” nine months after the determination of the charge, but the JLSC has refused to release the paper work showing the determination of the charge.
At the moment, given the recent huge self-inflicted hits to the credibility of the JLSC, many citizens will not accept an assurance from the JLSC as being the end of any matter.
The public interest requires that the determination of the disciplinary tribunal be released so that the public can make its own assessment of the propriety of the appointment of Mrs Quinlan-Williams to the office of High Court judge. Mr Reginald Dumas and I issued a joint media release to that effect on Wednesday last.
The tribunal’s determination must be released along with any related written reasons or report because there is also a general repugnancy towards closed-door justice, which applies with some force in this case. Failure to release this report is one of the reasons for my loss of confidence in the JLSC.
The other reasons are:
- Failure to do its own independent due diligence into the state of Marcia’s work in progress;
- Attempts to bully into silence those asking legitimate questions by saying words to the effect that there is nothing more to be said;
- The issue of a media release which referred inaccurately to “paper committals”;
- Responding in more detail as a result of the pressure of public opinion but failing to accept one iota of responsibility for the fiasco—even when apologists acknowledge that responsibility should be shared.
Additional reasons are: Failure to inform the public by what process Marcia was to be “restored” to the Magistracy and by reference to what legal provision she would be empowered to resume work in that jurisdiction; although accused persons are regularly brought to Court since the fiasco, complaining about the legal limbo in which they have been placed. No solution to the problem has been forthcoming.
Public officials ought not to continue to underestimate the increasing demands for accountability and the need to beg pardon when necessary.