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    December 11

  • 02:56 PM

RON IN COMMON: Throw light on politics and the courts

ERIC SMITH, ericsmith@nationnews.com

Added 13 May 2017

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ACROSS THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING Caribbean we often scoff at what is done in United States of America.

We hold dear to certain precepts we inherited from Britain, even if we do not follow them to the letter of the law.

So the way appointments are made to the Supreme Court of United States would be denounced by many of our legal luminaries, those in the political ruling class and defenders of our tried and trusted system as being “too political”.

But for the man in the street our legal system already not being in touch with him, needs a level of transparency which the American system offers, even if only during, and only then, in the confirmation process.

The recent eye-opener in Trinidad and Tobago as it related to the appointment of a High Court Judge and the subsequent un-appointment is a case in point. It is not an issue which ought to be of interest only to Martin Daly, Reginald Dumas, Jeff Cumberbatch and all those intellectuals and learned people.

This is a situation which impacts the people across the Eastern Caribbean, in Guyana, Barbados and even Jamaica and The Bahamas. Neither water nor a fear of the Caribbean Court of Justice can separate us in this instance.

That the Chief Magistrate in the twin-island republic, Marcia Ayers-Caesar, was appointed to the Supreme Court last month but subsequently resigned and is now back in her old position, can only make the average citizen say… hmmm.

The newspapers in Trinidad have indicated that Ayers-Caesar’s resignation from her big up position on the High Court followed an uproar over her appointment. She apparently had several outstanding matters at the Magistrates’ Court.

Now this would not be an unfamiliar situation in many CARICOM nations.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Chief Justice Ivor Archie, commenting on the situation,  said Ayers-Caesar was not completely honest in declaring how many matters in which she presided were still ongoing.

The Chief Justice had no option but to speak publicly given the outcry, not by some insignificant fellows in Arima or Belmont, but by powerful names all across the land of the Hummingbird.

But the more significant point here is would this have happened in the USA.

Take the recent appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. There was no pretence that it had the political backing of President Donald Trump and the Conservatives in the Congress. There was no doubt about where Justice Gorsuch stands on a number of issues and that he is a strong conservative like many of those who supported him.

In the Caribbean we behave as if the judges of our courts are all apolitical. It was a good public relations initiative employed many years ago but a more sophisticated public does not accept that argument today. Perhaps Herbert Volney, a candidate for the United National Congress in Trinidad in the 2010 election should write on the issue.

Indeed, the judiciary in the Caribbean should be aware of how the public sees and feels about them. Perhaps to get experiential evidence we should ask CADRES Caribbean to do a survey.

The American system ensures that appointees to the high office of Supreme Court are exposed to the public glare, even if only once before putting on those robes. But at least the man in the street will be able to form an opinion, based not only on an impressive CV, but get a feel about the temperament and suitability of the nominee for office.

When Clarence Thomas, a black conservative nominee was being grilled by the Senate during his confirmation process for a seat on the US Supreme Court, many people were able to form an opinion even outside of the USA.

There was something about transparency and accountability in the US process.

Ours is guided by Judicial and Legal Services Commissions and perhaps even before that, ministerial recommendations.. The reality is that most citizens don’t understand what transpires and just have to accept the system.

Yet, we are still complaining about all the wrong things our colonial masters did.

Across the Caribbean there is talk about the separation of powers, but yet the process remains cloudy in mystery. And, please don’t question the system which has worked so well for so many years, even if for so few.

It’s not in our interest to let it remain opaque.

• Eric Smith is the NATION’s Editor-In-Chief. Email: ericsmith@nationnews.com

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