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Raffique Shah


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The centre must hold

By Raffique Shah
May 6, 2017

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world;
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed; and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity..."
(The Second Coming, William Yeats, Irish poet laureate, 1919)

For the second consecutive week, I find myself turning to poetry to help me interpret the state of the nation: things are indeed falling apart. The centre seems to have abdicated its authority and responsibilities, collapsing before our eyes. Integrity has been severely compromised. Human vultures circle the diseased nation, pecking away at its gaping wounds rather than administering healing balm, mindless that innocence is drowned in anarchy, caring only about the prospect of power.

Against such a grim canvas, citizens turn to the centre, to those institutions that have been long established as independent authorities that rise above the din of discontent, that steady the ship of state as the turbulence turns into a tempest. But when the centre cannot hold, when it is mired in a mess of its own making, who or what is left to stave off disaster, maybe to salvage the wreck if the ship runs aground?

Our judicial system, especially the judiciary, is supposed to be the sanctum that will always be there, asserting authority and power even if anarchy is loosed upon the nation. When its credibility comes into question, its integrity is challenged, then things don't just fall apart: in such circumstance, Yeats's eloquent poetry must be reduced to colloquialism—all fall down.

Sadly, that's the sorry pass we have arrived at, what with the inexplicable shenanigans of senior judicial officers over the past few weeks. I do not pretend to know law, and I am mindful of Chief Justice Ivor Archie's injunction to media personnel to be careful about what we say or write regarding the strange developments.

I don't think, however, that I need to remind the CJ of Lord Atkin's famous pronouncement at the Privy Council in 1936: "Justice is not a cloistered virtue: she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful...comments of ordinary men..." As Lord Carlti (my boyhood calypso sobriquet), I need add that far from being cloistered, judges must stand naked before the populace, scrutinised so that we can see who and what they really are. After all, Trinis don't like to buy "cat in bag".

Lest the CJ thinks I'm being disrespectful, let me remind him that it was he, not I, and his erstwhile colleagues on the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, who appointed ex-chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar as a judge, only to have her resign days later after several lawyers pointed to the many part-heard matters she had left in limbo.

With the judiciary being a pivotal part of the "centre" that must hold when things threaten to fall apart, the CJ, as head of the JLSC, needs to explain how such a horrendous error occurred under his watch. Are there other errors that went unnoticed? What is the true state of the judicial system? Why is the backlog of cases getting bigger?

I should note that, on balance, I have always assessed our judicial officers as being bright, fair and trustworthy, although, through the years, I've had doubts about the sanity of some judges, and the integrity of others.

The reason I'm questioning the state of the system is I sense that the nation is teetering on the brink of social and political anarchy, precipitated by sins of omission committed by those who hold office and acts of desperation by those seeking to grab power.

On both sides of the divide, stupor has numbed the architects' minds to Yeats's "blood-dimmed tide" in which "the ceremony of innocence is drowned". I, who lived through a revolution in 1970 and an insurrection in 1990, can tell you exactly how those who stoke unrest will react.

In 1970, there was responsible leadership on all fronts (although some of Dr Eric Williams's colleagues deserted him), so the tonnes of guns did not rain blood, nor was there widespread looting or arson.

In 1990, there was total disorder, looting and mayhem. Many police officers abandoned their posts, most of the military stood firm, and Ray Robinson and a handful of his aides acquitted themselves well. Others who had fanned the flames fled, hid or cowered until after the dust settled.

I see a situation similar to the latter developing, except that now there are thousands of illegal guns in the hands of criminals who have no regard for human life. If the dam of discontent bursts, much blood would flow, the "provocateurs" will run and hide, ordinary citizens will pay a devastating price, and the nation will descend into the wasteland of a failed state.

Now is the time for the leadership of the "centre" to assert itself if we are to avert disaster. Can we count on our judicial officers?

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