Jump, judges, jump

March 22, 2000
By Terry Joseph

It was more than 20 years ago that calypsonian Shadow, hit upon the idea of letting judges know that they are not immune to scrutiny, simply by dint of their positions.

His remonstration over a defeat by Sparrow in 1974, led him to issue a threat of painful reprisals, once the judges joined him in Hell. In the long interim, there was no evidence that the judges were either about to die, nor did they appear in any way intimidated.

Clearly, Shadow had not adopted the preferred approach in the first instance and given the results over the period, decided to contemplate his quandary afresh.

This year, instead of revisiting the theme of "Jump, Judges, Jump", he approached the bench with humility, begging leave of the court to ask if his repeated failure to cop the national calypso monarch title was exclusively his fault.

"What's Wrong With Me?" he asked. The judges, apparently unable to identify any flaws in his presentation, answered favourably; giving him the prize.

It is a parable about methodology that the learned Attorney General, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj might wish to further study, before proceeding with plans to have fired judges and magistrates who take unduly long to deliver their findings.

To simply say "justice delayed is justice denied", is like saying there should be peace in the world. The process by which these things are achieved are infinitely more complex than widely believed.

Mark you, the examples of justice delayed are damning, so the AG is on popular ground, when he attempts to speed up the process.

Nobody wants to be another Deborah Chan, the hapless cancer patient whose compensation claim before the court was described by the trial judge as urgent, but which took six years to complete, giving Chan time to die before the judgment was delivered.

The number of situations in which such outrageous delays become as large an issue as the substantive matter before the court, cries out for action. The AG therefore is acting in the public interest when he seeks to put in place a mechanism that will grease the wheels or replace the slow machines altogether.

But no matter how noble his crusade, the method by which he achieves his purpose must bring with it the additional comfort of continuing faith in a system that had endeared itself to us.

If the people suspect that there is any disturbance to the concept, the natural response would be one of anxiety.

Whether Mr Maharaj pursues the implementation of a law that will slap a six-month time limit for judgments to be delivered (in lieu of which judges and magistrates must show reasonable cause or be deemed incompetent), is not as important as finding swift solution to the problem of justice delayed.

If, as I suspect, the AG's position is flung clear out of Parliament, we would still be left with the original difficulty. And for all the talk of who wants to control whom, the little people will again be the victims of a system that takes too damn long to vindicate those who feel wronged.

It must be at least doubly painful to know that you are innocent and after relying on the very people who can confirm it; a frustrating wait drives you to distraction.

Perhaps the Judicial and Legal Services Commission should have come up with its own formula to help alleviate the stress of such delays.

But it hasn't and while we waited for alternative solutions, Deborah Chan died.

Just like there are delinquent teachers and priests in the world, it is not unreasonable to surmise that some of the people we have appointed as judges may be procrastinators or just downright lazy.

If between the very judges and the body we have put in place to rectify such difficulties, a solution cannot be found, then they are jointly inviting upon themselves the very interference about which they so frequently complain.


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