Mrs McCalla's wisdom; Mr K D Knight's folly

Thursday, April 17, 2014    

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CHIEF Justice Mrs Zaila McCalla can be cast in the mould of the typical judge. She does not jump mouth first into public debates.

The chief justice has singularly helped our faith in the justice system by her utterances at Monday's swearing-in of five judges to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen.

In her very pointed remarks, she reminded judges that while they were independent in the performance of their judicial duty, they were accountable to the public they have sworn to serve.

"All judicial officers should be cognisant that we operate in an atmosphere where judicial decisions are subject to much scrutiny in the media. We must, therefore, perform in a manner that is transparent and fair," Mrs McCalla said.

She wisely noted that while there were certain circumstances where the law did not require judges to give reasons for decisions taken, in the interest of justice and good practice the decision should be taken to do so.

"It may be prudent to exercise our judicial expression in such matters and give reasons for our decisions, especially where the matters are of public interest and the subject of discussions in the public domain," she stated.

The chief justice did not name the Kern Spencer case presided over by Senior Magistrate Judith Pusey nor any other. But those whose literacy level allows them the ability to read between the lines — and we must earnestly beg to exclude attorneys Mr K D Knight, QC and Mr Gordon Robinson from such eminent crowd — will have no doubt about whom her comments are aimed at.

We exclude Messrs Knight and Robinson who have missed the point by miles, based on their patently self-serving defence elsewhere of the magistrate's failure to give reasons for dismissing the corruption case against Mr Spencer and Miss Coleen Wright.

We have argued before in this space that given the high level of public interest in the case and the hardened pessimism among John Public that no politician will be sent to jail, no matter how guilty, it would have served the justice system well had Ms Pusey bothered to give reasons for her decision to uphold the no-case submission by Mr Knight et al.

Justice would have been further served because a perception was developing that the legal clash between Ms Pusey and the Director of Public Prosecutions Ms Paula Llewellyn — which was resolved in favour of the DPP — could have clouded the judgement. It was a wonderful PR opportunity that was missed.

As it turned out, Mr Knight is happy with his pyrrhic victory, no doubt because an ugly win is better than a pretty loss. But to defend it by putting down the DPP is unbecoming.

We feel even more certain in our rightness on this matter, after hearing from the Commonwealth Lawyers Association yesterday that the Privy Council has struck a blow for freedom of expression, by quashing a jail sentence against a journalist for criticising a judge in Mauritius.

Under an ancient common law offence called 'Scandalising the Court', editor-in-chief Dhooharika of the French language Samedi Plus newspaper was handed a three-month sentence after he published allegations against the chief justice of Mauritius and called for a tribunal of enquiry into violation of the code of judicial conduct.

See story elsewhere in this edition.





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