Refreshing voice of reason

By Raffique Shah
September 18, 2010

Chief Justice Ivor ArchieIN the midst of the never-ending cacophony that has come to characterise our politics, it was refreshing to hear at least one voice of reason coming from someone who holds high office. I refer to Chief Justice Ivor Archie, whose speech at the opening of the new law term was so different to the din that emanated from Parliament during the ongoing budget debate.

True, the fields of politics and the judicature are poles apart, more so in this country. Politicians are never satisfied unless they control everything, everyone. When the Patrick Manning administration was having difficulty with certain legal matters, it attempted to ride roughshod over members of the judiciary. In the melee, CJ Sat Sharma was treated like a common criminal, the executive sending “storm troopers” to his home in the still of the night.

Anyone with common sense could see even if there was a prima facie case for pursuing legal action against Sharma, there were other, decent approaches that might have borne fruit. As it turned out, Sharma came out smelling roses while the politicians in power looked like latter-day-Nazis.

I know how people’s memories are short, so I need to remind them that only last year, when the PNM government signalled its intention to exercise political control over administrative aspects of the judiciary, Archie J spoke out stridently against any such incursion. In fact, his powerful speech then was a warning to those who would try to encumber the judiciary using their political offices and the public purse.

I am not for one moment suggesting that justice is a cloistered virtue. Far from it, since my first brush with the law and courts at age 24, I have firmly supported the Lord Atkin dictum that came from a Privy Council ruling in a Trinidad and Tobago appeal in 1936 (Ambard vs the AG), “…She (justice) must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men.”

In the local political arena, persistent politicking has long replaced governance. From as far back as in 1986, when the NAR assumed power by the biggest landslide victory ever, we have endured the Parliament Chamber transformed into a continuing political platform. Governments no longer govern. They campaign. Oppositions no longer keep governments in check. They, too, continue campaigning for the next elections.

So even as attending to the people’s business may take some precedence at times, Members of Parliament seem consumed with going after each other’s throats. Look and listen well to the ongoing Budget debate. A minister may address issues for two minutes. He or she then spends ten minutes “pelting blows” at the opposition. Likewise, the latter just nitpick at every measure the new Government outlined in the budget presentation, criticising, condemning, but offering no alternatives.

Such behaviour is nauseating, to say the least. Which is why, when I tuned in to Chief Justice Archie as he addressed his brothers and sisters-in-law, he came across like a breath of fresh air. The mild mannered CJ tackled the raging debate over capital punishment with such aplomb, I don’t know that his reasoning registered with those on both sides of the hanging fence who snarl and snap at each other on a daily basis.

Before he expressed his opinion on capital offences and capital punishment, the CJ praised the case management and mediation systems in the Civil Courts, but bemoaned the overburdened and understaffed Magistrates Courts and High Courts. Imagine if you will, 90,000 cases in one year coming before the Magistrates Courts: madness!

He then addressed two very contentious issues—the case for withdrawing from the Privy Council, and the ineffectiveness of capital punishment as a panacea for the savagery the population has been subjected to for far too long.

On the latter, he said, “…I am convinced that the problem generally is the low detection, prosecution and conviction rate. I am yet to see any persuasive empirical evidence that executions significantly reduce murder or crime rates generally. Undoubtedly it will deter some, and some will argue that there are other philosophical justifications for application of the death penalty…”

The CJ used temperate language where others spew fire and brimstone. He concluded that ultimately, judges will carry out the law of the land, which prescribes capital punishment for murder. But with low detection and conviction rates, what effect would their decisions, or actual hangings, have on the murder rate?

His rationale for replacing the Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice was, for me, the high point of his address. He argued, “After 48 years of supposed independence, it astonishes me that there is even a debate about whether the Caribbean Court of Justice—the CCJ—should be our final Appellate Court. If we have the moral and intellectual capacity to run our own countries in the region, why can we not judge ourselves?”

In the final “rub”, he cited a recent PC ruling in which the law lords disagreed with the local Appeal Court. Archie: “…The senior Law Lord has publicly speculated whether the English tax payer might not have reason to feel aggrieved that he is subsidising the appellate system of countries in which he has no interest and to which he feels no attachment. Do we have to await the final humiliation of being asked to leave?”

Thank you, CJ. I rest your case.

7 thoughts on “Refreshing voice of reason”

  1. “In the melee, CJ Sat Sharma was treated like a common criminal?” Now I am finally convinced that Uncle Shah lost his sense of reason. Was it not a certain sitting Chief Magistrate, who claimed that the then CJ Sat Shama attempted to entice him to abrogate his legal responsibilities, by throwing a bone in favor of the self admitted ,politically immoral then Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday?,115957.html

    Now if this joker Mc Nicolls , decided to sell his soul for 10 pieces of Canadian, or Toco silver , by failing to eventually testify so as to finally convict both characters , that brought their good office to the gutter, then how is that a Manning / governmental flaw? I know that many traveling on this here information highway are much smarter that yours truly , but can anyone deduce from the undermentioned article, that there is any cause for celebration, by the former CJ , because he was somehow vindicated in any fashion ,by the Privy Council’s ruling?
    What we should be disgusted at , is the fact that we do not have laws on our books that can result in the prosecution of folks who fail to fulfill their civic duties, and testify against blue color crooks and bandits, or similar white color miscreants.
    Do you know how many disgusting T&T wife abusers ,in unmentionable enclaves would be brought to justice, even if the women were scared of a cultural backlash for driving the legal dagger between their hearts, and in the process, make them obtain their karma as wives of much stronger forces, in male populated prisons?
    I thank the CJ for firstly reintroducing some sense of decency , into the corridors of the Judiciary , and having the guts to demand that after 48 years in the underachieving , backward wilderness, T&T attempt to stand on their own, especially, as our taxpayers are paying exorbitant dollars to house several learned and experienced regional, and local legal luminaries , while looking like idiots to the world, that is well acquainted by the fact that our Caribbean Court of Justice Headquarters, are located here in the Twin Republic.I say it is time to quit kissing the feet of conniving British Law Lords, who will never have our national interest at heart , regardless about their claims of objectivity, of a blind justice.
    We are now finally convince as to why you were elevated over others who think that they were more deserving of some higher honor- even with the dozens of his rulings that said adored foreign law lords rebuffed at great cost to the State.
    Fortunately, you have the youth , health , and backbone to outlast the obvious onslaught that will come your way, by all and sundry. Just remember the Machiavellian political experience ,of a certain Bengal Tiger, in his run in with fellow Ahwee Bouy, of the Island Ward, aka de Castara kid- revenge can be a nice dish ,especially when eaten cold.
    To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
    Uncle Shah might like that as well, as he too subscribe to the MacArthurian view that “old soldiers never die , they just fade …. “, yes?

    Seems as if we are all victims in some fashion, from naive 24 year old Lieutenants,Tobago’s own ANR Robinson,Justice Volney, and former CJ Shama,but most importantly, the majority of the 1.3 millions of Trinis across the underachieving nation,not privileged to eat at the piggy trough of the PNM/ULF/UNC/PP, alleged ,political saviors.
    Now , if only Britannia, and her anachronistic Privy council, can just fade away,in like manner to this once favored ,American War General, we in the Caribbean ,can finally , remove that last unpalatable, yoke of barbaric Colonialism ,hmmm?

    1. “Was it not a certain sitting Chief Magistrate, who claimed that the then CJ Sat Shama attempted to entice him to abrogate his legal responsibilities” Nealos.

      Nealos it was not so much the politics involve rather it was the way the CJ Sharma was treated. Sharp shooters and professional killers with AK 47’s waiting outside his door with deadly force. Now you are a bright man Nealos, compare that treatment to Abu who was told to come in, no police or sharp shooters sent to pick him up. Tell me what your tribal mind would say to that. A respectable citizen treated as a criminal, a criminal treated with “kid’s gloves”. Who gave the orders for this big pappy show, I can only assume it came from balisier house. The same place that now sits empty, empty of ideology, vision and purpose.

      1. Please Khem , cut it out about this Abu Bakr nonsense. Your pal Bas, and Chief whip Ramesh , – the Imam’s one time lawyer- had ample opportunities to crack his neck at the POS gallows , while they were in power , and did absolutely nothing about it as well.You seem to forget who where also conveniently absent from Parliament on that fateful day , that shall live in infamy ,in 1990, when the pseudo Islamist henchmen buddies , invaded Parliament , and shot my PM in his knees, while holding the nation to ransom, yes?
        As for Sat Shama , I have absolutely no more comments to make on that stupid charade on justice ,but will just add,do not join Uncle Shah ever again to insult our intelligence, about low life folks predilections for engaging in criminal activities across the nation , when you are inclined to be an apologist for crooks and bandits , simply because they hold lofty office.
        What’s good for the goose must be good for the gander, so if an illiterate , Lavantille weed smoker , could be dragged out in handcuffs and TV cameras, along with an Aranguez fowl thief , so should former CJ Shama, former PM Bas, Clico bosses, and HUC Ponzi adoring , head honchos ,with stolen loot in Florida,and Costa Rica, agreed?

  2. Imagine if you will, 90,000 cases in one year coming before the Magistrates Courts: madness!

    Time limits have to be placed on these cases. A case should not be heard after over 3 years. Within 3 Years that case should be heard and judgement given. Justice delayed is justice denied.

    Some of these cases can be determined by two judges on the same day it is presented. A short judgement given with the right to appeal. Too many times cases get caught up in the system and drag around for several years.

    Ivor must think outside the box and come up with a reasonable, workable system of speedy justice. Speedy justice is better than no justice.

    Night court, family court and criminal court have to be stream lined in order to become efficient. Computerisation of the entire system and quick transfer of files in the case of appeals have to become part of this system of justice. Everything recorded and salient points imput into the computer.

    The justice system is the single determiner of law and order and right now with such a huge backlog it is not… unfortunately.

  3. What are you a spokesman for the Law association now Khem? In case you did not know , your present government as constituted ,has close to 500 lawyers within it’s ranks, including your PM. Tell them instead to get on the business of leading , and create all those innovative programs you wish to introduce to alleviate crimes ,and or overtaxed courts system, while at the same time refusing to generate any money by not demanding taxes from any citizen with over 500 acres of land, as they are doing.
    You have other choices too khem , encourage them to import 5000 Canadians, English, Australians, a,nd New Zealanders legal scholars , or better yet, a Caucasian Chief Justice to put Archie in his place , for having the audacity to hope that we will get rid of your much adored Privy Council , and finally stop behaving as if they are still an Opposition Party , by supporting the much ,maligned CCJ.

  4. Sir,
    With all due respects you seem to love nice speeches even though they are laced with untruths. Or is it from age 24 you were alseep most of the time. You see I like to get to the meat of things. The CJ fills me with a lot of ‘nice to have’ talk but he does not seem to focus on specifics. In the civil cases do you know how many had endless needless adjournments that cost the victims especially those cases geared towards witness statements on their behalf that end up ..thrown out( of course witnesses are seduced in each which way, as they say money talks). I do not expect any answer from you for I am convinced you live in a fantasy world. The CJ must talk about judgements in his courts particularly the ones where the judge decides before the trial and frustrates the victim afterwards. Oh you want to know how I know that, well your sins are always exposed that is why it is good policy that you refrain from committing sins for they follow you to your grave. The CJ should check up on those cases where judgements are reserved after the trial almost forever as the judge studies his reputation more than the evidence before him. My friend do your research before you use the pen. You want to write on statements made by the CJ, get some data from the courts and figure out how much the courts made the victims pay and you will know why a lot of poor people refuses to go to court but take the law into their own hands. Yes the CJ is not dotish he knows this. The law is there for certain people to get rich. Justice is for who can afford it… international companies operating here. You want to write about some important law issues to maintain your ego, then you can write about why laws like OSHA are not enforced in Trinidad or why certain people cannot receive NIS injury benefits even though they paid NIS for 25+ years and suffer job related injuries or why companies force workers to receive Workmans Compensation (most union contracts do not have clauses re injury on the job claims). Of course Workmans Compensation is based on percent disability which the insurance sets, not your doctors and this benefit is paid by them not the company and you get no severance when you are medically boarded. You think the CJ does not know about this. So, the companies can leave you destroyed for life without paying a red cent. Yes my friend the law is still an A ,…subject to the rich lawyer interpretation. The lawyers here cream off you as the CJ cannot prevent them from double dipping as their law practice expenses exploit both the American and English systems and no red book can prevent the lawlessness of this…want to bet me on this. THe CJ is a non performer. The CJ has failed miserably and should be called to resign by Mr. H. Volney.

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