Sunday 30th July, 2006

Martin George
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Picking sense from nonsense

I have heard and listened to a plethora of diverse views and opinions from members of the public at all levels—from the ordinary man in the street, all the way up to CEOs and board directors—and it seems that many people are highly impassioned about the current events in the judiciary.

Most are seeing it through rose-coloured lenses of either allegations of political interference, racial oppression, or tampering with the independence of the judiciary.

As a result, it becomes quite difficult to pick sense from nonsense, as regards the comments and views expressed by many of the players and commentators in the scenario, because it is quite obvious that some of the comments and statements are clearly designed to play to particular audiences or groups, in order to whip up support.

Review action

Take, for instance, Basdeo Panday’s ridiculous statement about resorting to violence, which, thankfully, most of the nation ignored, as being the last desperate yelp, not even a growl, from a wounded and tired old lion, who appears not to have the heart or the ability to fight anymore.

Take also, the cries and complaints of interfering with the independence of the judiciary and the Government having control of the judiciary.

Again, the emotion of the entire issue has clouded and shrouded the facts and reality from the eyes of most people, as the fact is that it is this same judiciary, which, on a daily basis, rules against the Government in so many cases before the courts, once it is fit and proper so to do.

There have been so many constitutional motions and judicial review actions over the years that have gone against the Government, and the courts have had no hesitation in making these orders and, in some cases, have harshly criticised the state and its officers for their failures and failings to do the right thing.

So, it is difficult now to conceive of this present situation having any effect of undermining or tampering with the independence of the judiciary.

Look at the facts. Even in the heat of the battle, Justice Judith Jones has stood up and faced down the organs of the state and has successively issued injunctions against them.

Clearly, this is not the action of a judiciary which lacks independence.

It’s left to be seen whether her decisions are right or wrong, but she clearly held fast to her independence, made her orders, and let the chips fall where they may.

When Chief Justice Bernard was hauled before the courts by the now deceased Justice Crane, in an epic battle which went all the way to the Privy Council, there were similar cries that the independence of the judiciary could be affected, yet the judiciary emerged from that battle stronger, more vibrant and more robust than ever.

When Michael de la Bastide, as the sitting Chief Justice, had his running battles with then Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj under the UNC administration, again cries of tampering with the independence of the judiciary were raised, but the judiciary was able to still preserve its independence and remain an institution which acts as a bulwark against government or state excesses or abuses.

Even when de la Bastide himself had his ding dong battle through the courts over the issue with the registrar of the court, there was panic.

But once again, the judicial ship remained steady enough to navigate its way through those rough waters and emerge with its independence intact.

It actually seems that the post of Chief Justice has become a veritable hot seat, with each of the last couple office-holders becoming embroiled in one legal battle or another, and with the usual hue and cry, but the independence of the judiciary has remained unscathed.

Step back

This is not to say that we must not remain eternally vigilant and watchful, but we must also not forget our history, and we must be able to look back and see that our judiciary has a strong, proud tradition of independence which it will not give up easily.

As regards the cries of racial oppression and discrimination, as uttered by Panday et al, it again reeks of a ludicrous, desperate rallying cry, to appeal to our baser, tribal instincts, which only serves to mask and obfuscate the true issues at stake here.

It is a complaint which can hardly bear scrutiny and which, when exposed to the harsh light of reality, will be exposed as hollow, baseless and irrelevant.

One has only to look at the players and the people who have been rallying around the Chief Justice and giving him support in his time of need.

His lead attorney is Russell Martineau, his close friend and confidant, who stood by him as he staved off his impending arrest.

So, before we rush to all sorts of crazy and calamitous conclusions, let us all just step back a bit and engage in some critical analysis of the facts, and try to pick sense from nonsense.

Because, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, the issues surrounding the Chief Justice are going to come down to a question of “Did he, or didn’t he?”

That is the question.

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