Mr Justice of Appeal Peter Jamadar should have stayed in his section. His statement in the capacity of Acting Chief Justice attempting to set boundaries for the long established tradition of satire and calling out ‘mocking pretenders’ during the Carnival season was surprising.
Returning from my usual chip with All Stars on J’Ouvert morning by Victoria Square, I saw two of the satirists of the judiciary in their robes—made from garbage bags—present there. The use of masks in ole mas’ portrayals is frequent and in order. They may have been political opportunists using Carnival to demean their target, but expecting ‘temperance’ in a season of officially funded intemperance is a big ask.
Carnival is a season when, short of criminal acts, authority must yield to the noise of the people and one might have expected the learned Judge, in view of his vibrant track record, to appreciate that.
In medieval times, in certain French and English cathedrals, those of humbler rank in the church mocked things during the Feast of Fools. As succinctly put in one description ‘solemnities, pieties and etiquette are profaned and overturned by normally suppressed voices and energies’.
The vibrant track record of the learned Judge comprises judgments like those in the Trinity Cross case and the failed attempt by the Chief Justice to prevent the Law Association from examining the matters concerning him and making a recommendation to the Prime Minster.
Consequently, those of us not afraid to speak have counted the learned Judge firmly among the section walking the talk that the judiciary must maintain high standards. Trenchant satire is another spur towards that end.
In that vein, consider the brilliant rapso of 3 Canal and these lines in Talk yuh Talk: “Stuttering talk is a stumbling walk so yuh better make sure dat yuh walking yuh talk.”
Closed door murmurings or seeking to shield the judiciary from the situation, which it has brought upon itself, causes me concern similar to that expressed in that rapso classic.
However, the power of the learned Judge’s judgments may limit the damage of an over defensive reaction to satire and keep intact the section in which we place our hopes for the repair of the judiciary. Assistance is also to be found in another statement by which senior judges distanced themselves from the Chief Justice.
An attempt is being made to impugn the decision of the Court of Appeal dismissing five election petitions brought on behalf of certain defeated Opposition (UNC) candidates. The complaint is that—unknown to the petitioners at time of the hearing—the Chief Justice, as later reported in the public domain, had allegedly approached the Prime Minister as well as officials of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) for certain persons to be granted low cost HDC housing.
A group of senior judges including Mr Justice of Appeal Jamadar, through the Registrar of the Supreme Court, informed us that there was no prior disclosure by the Chief Justice of any matter in relation to his alleged lobbying for housing and that his recusal from the cases was not discussed.
Very significantly, these judges, Mendonca JA, Jamadar JA, Narine JA, and Jones JA, gave this information after the judiciary stated that Justice of Appeal Mendonca was responsible for the rostering of judges in all appeals and had rostered the judges for the election petitions appeals—as though the presence of the Chief Justice on the bench in those cases was Justice Mendonca’s ‘fault’.
This is part of the mounting evidence that the Court of Appeal is badly split between the Chief Justice and his peers over the actions of the Chief Justice. How much longer can the members work effectively together?
On Wednesday last, the Trinidad Express, in an editorial, stated that: “the latest controversy to engulf the judiciary emphasises why Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley should act expeditiously in triggering the constitutional mechanism for investigating the Chief Justice.”
Calling for expedition seems unreal, when the Law Association’s recommendation for impeachment was received by the Prime Minister nearly two months ago. But better later than never to stop the ole mas continuing in the judiciary.
The undue delay of the Prime Minister is worrisome for a number of reasons. My main concern is that there are accusations (and current court action) accusing the Chief Justice of collusion with the Prime Minister to provide recommendations for housing for friends of the Chief Justice. This makes the Prime Minister a party to the corruption and the actions of the Chief Justice that has resulted in this constitutional mess. Not only that, the irony that the Prime Minister has to trigger section 137 for an investigation into the conduct of the Chief Justice may well reveal that the Prime Minister himself is corrupt, or at least involved, is not lost on me.
No wonder the Prime Minister is reluctant to act. It would be like tying a noose around his own neck, fastening the other end to a tree and climbing atop a horse, then slapping the horse on the rump to hang himself. Like a widow committing “sati”, if you prefer another analogy.
I foresee that lawyers will make oodles of money taking several cases all the way to the Privy Council.