In parts of the Caribbean, including here in Trinidad and Tobago, fooling someone is referred to as “giving a six for a nine.”
Last week, a High Court Judge was arrested and charged with—as it is popularly known—driving under the influence. After his court appearance, it was reported that the police had erroneously charged the Judge under a section of the motor vehicle legislation referred to as section 70 (4).
Such a section does not exist and the Judge should have been charged under Section 70A, so the bemused public got a 4 for an A.
The Judge’s lawyers are gung-ho to object to a proposed amendment to the charge. Whatever the Magistrate decides, it is clear that further reputational damage has been done to the already badly wounded Judiciary, All the recent wounds flowing from the current judicial regime, whose Chief is attempting to carry on nonchalantly, no doubt encouraged by shallow statements from the Attorney General to the effect that the threshold for impeachment proceedings has not been reached.
For many months, I took the lead in seeking accountability and consequences for the appointment blunders made by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission—which the Chief Justice heads—as well as for the subsequent serious but largely unanswered questions about the conduct of the Chief Justice. One kernel of the conduct is allegedly approaching State agencies to assist with State-provided housing for dubious friends and acquaintances.
Eventually, when the Law Association took up the matter, I decided that I would not refer to the subject again. The matter proceeded to the courts and the Court of Appeal last month dismissed the Chief Justice’s application for judicial review of the Law Association’s actions.
Following the Court of Appeal’s decision, I maintained my silence and I declined all requests for interviews on the current state of play.
However, the Chief Justice proceeded on even more leave, counting his days on duty and off duty in the manner of a poorly motivated clerk fighting to claim Ash Wednesday as a cool down holiday.
Claiming vacation days to replace days attending an Organisation of American States’ conference—hardly an occasion that will improve the poorly regarded administration of justice—after your belly full of holidays already would provoke from the young people the response, “Seriously?”
Do invitations to conferences that come with top management status justify claims for additional holidays, if attendance at these conferences is a personal choice from a menu of travel junkets?
It looks like the bemused public also got a 4 for an A in this long running Chief Justice saga, that is four kinds of leave which are hampering A class leadership of our Judiciary.
To rub salt in the wound, we already have difficulty in putting errant officials in the doghouse, yet we may be property taxed on the empty doghouses—an effective, jokey sound bite from Kamla. The doghouses are mostly empty awaiting the slow grind of the wheels of justice and accountability.
It is useful to note, in the context of another blow to the reputation of the Judiciary, Justice of Appeal Bereaux’s observation that “a judge cannot be expected to be immunised from public scrutiny.”
Both Justice of Appeal Mendonca, who presided. and Justice Bereaux expressed similar opinions regarding allegations of negative conduct of a judge in the public domain.
Justice Mendonca: “Allegations in the public domain impacting negatively on the conduct of a judge particularly when they are unanswered and not refuted are capable of damaging public confidence in the judiciary and undermining the judiciary.”
Justice Bereaux: “These allegations so negatively impact on the office of Chief Justice and by extension the judiciary that they threaten to undermine the administration of justice and the rule of law.”
Given the spin that the Chief Justice is being persecuted, equally useful are the observations of Justice of Appeal Jamadar as to how “difficult it is to sit in judgment of one’s own Chief Justice. It reveals how challenging the work of judging can be.”
The challenges of public commentators are equally formidable. Commentators worth their salt will not be easily run off the field.