Sunday 21st September, 2008

Lennox Grant
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CEO of state enterprise, T&T Justice Co, Ltd

At least one attorney, in the live audience of the law-term opening, was impressed by the performing skills of Chief Justice Ivor Archie.

“The chief rehearsed that speech very well,” he said, in the hearing of a Guardian reporter who thought the lawyer hadn’t noticed the two teleprompters unfolding the lines spoken by the star of the show.

For viewers like me, watching it on TV, it was, indeed, a show, an elaborate, public-sector production, with illustrations projected as in a PowerPoint presentation.

Eight months in the job, the Chief Justice offered more promises based on his aims, and attitude linked to his style, than any accounting due to his stewardship.

The leading man in the cast of judges showed himself sensitive to production values. He announced a one-hour monologue and, self-deprecatingly later, acknowledged it when he talked beyond his self-imposed limit.

In between, when he noted on air some audio trouble, it was promptly corrected.

The Ivor Archie Show, then, proclaimed a Chief Justice chancellery that assigns priority to being both correct and viewer-friendly.

Remembering the maker of his appointment, he took his text from fresh remarks by President Richards. He proposed the law-term opening as the “rededication...and recommissioning of a major institution.”

Viewers with antennas configured like mine will have read into “recommissioning” an implication that the judiciary had earlier been “decommissioned.”

In “recommissioning,” such viewers pick up some resonance with an immediate past of roiling, potentially mortal, conflict that engulfed the judiciary and almost destroyed the former Chief Justice.

Last week, Chief Justice Archie did not consciously invoke that past as a point of departure, nor as a heritage yielding lessons for tomorrow.

The drums and colours, any clanging of shields bespeaking the forearming that comes from forewarning: all were restricted to the Defence Force show in the street outside.

Inside the Hall of Justice, the chancellery being unveiled stressed its character as non-ideological, non-threatening to, “unthreatened” by the executive, and generally accommodating.

It took its text also from the Manning administration’s gospel of Vision 2020.

Forget the calf-length black gown piped in red and white, and the roman collar, with the fan-shaped, lacy bib, frothing down his chest: those visuals of Chief Justice livery recall a high clerical functionary of medieval times.

Hear, instead, soundbites and the buzzwords that present Mr Archie as the today CEO of a state enterprise, operating in a service industry called justice.

From managerial-language terms such as “cementing,” “positioning,” “outreach,” “open communication,” “roll-out,” “thinking out of the box,” and “adding value,” you derive the odd sense of a judicial business seeking to gain market share in an open economy.

Does a judiciary have “customers?” Under CEO Archie, T&T Judiciary Ltd not only runs “customer-relations” desks, but also works with “partners,” seeking to maintain “visible and transparent collaboration.”

From the mouth of the engineer-turned-jurist easily falls tech terms such as “WAN” and “bandwidth,” as facilitating factors for, among other things, video conferencing in the courts.

He holds “technological savvy” as one defining criterion for judges who would be upwardly mobile.

Till now, that hadn’t been stressed as a qualification for high judicial office. But today’s world is what it is.

Still, the present cannot avoid being haunted by the past. As the Chief Justice spoke on Tuesday, cameras panned in the audience the whiskery visage of Chief Magistrate Sherman NcNicolls, anti-heroic main man in the Manning administration’s machinations to unseat, and jail, former Chief Justice Sat Sharma.

Mr Sharma eventually retired with his pension, shaken by the experience, but without a criminal record.

The reputation of former Attorney General John Jeremie, leading general of Mr Manning in the anti-Sharma crusade, was damaged if not destroyed.

Arising from his role in the Sharma persecution and prosecution, Chief Magistrate McNicolls is still fighting serious disciplinary charges.

The blood on the floor has hardly dried in an episode the Mustill tribunal described, last year, with amazement and hardly disguised scandal:

“We see the Chief Justice publicly arrested, and later ushered three times into the dock in a criminal court to undergo a summary trial on charges, based on allegations by the Chief Magistrate, and then on the last occasion ushered out again in consequence of the refusal by the Chief Magistrate to give evidence against him...

“It is impossible to make sense of this episode.”

Exactly one year after the Mustill tribunal opened, Chief Justice Archie blandly referred to it all as a “controversy.”

This usage airbrushes the historical fact that, by due legal process presided over by a lord, a knight and a Queen’s Counsel, the “controversy” had been resolved in Mr Sharma’s favour.

He had survived years of being targeted by the Manning administration, having been reduced to public begging for funds to fight the case he eventually won.

It had once happened long before Sat Sharma. That episode had been revisited before the Mustill tribunal’s sittings last September.

Chief Justice Archie, reaching out for contemporary buzzwords and cliches, even grabbed hold of Barack Obama’s “audacity of hope.”

He dares to hope what happened to Sharma can’t happen again.

Or, not to him.

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