Last week, the SBC interviewed the Master and Registrar of the Supreme Court of Seychelles, Mr Melchior Vidot, on various issues regarding the state of the judiciary. Mr Vidot stated that the two Tanzanian Magistrates who were recruited in November 2008 have tendered in their notice of resignation and Mr Vidot added that another Magistrate is also likely to resign. The fact that we have 4 Magistrates and that number is likely to, at the very least, be halved, shows a worrying trend. A crisis is on the horizon.
It is ostensible amongst legal personnel that many lawyers are unattracted to taking on a position in the magistracy. The key reason being that the pay is unattractive. It is even unattractive to the Government Lawyers - the State Counsels. In the efforts of the Department of Legal Affairs to prevent its State Counsels from leaving and joining the private bar, the salaries of State Counsels were increased to such a level that the salary of a magistrate can now only attract the most junior of State Counsels (those who are still on the starting salaries). Many argue that there really is no need to further increase the salaries of State Counsels as the only other competitive option open to a State Counsel is to join the private bar. In the same vein, why should a more senior State Counsel, with all his/her extra allowances for being a member of a number of boards, leave such a comfortable situation for the tiresome and stressful life of a magistrate for only a few more thousand rupees at the end of the month? And for the even more senior State Counsels, all those extra allowances in fact pushes his/her 'take home earnings' above that of a magistrate.
A career path needs to be worked on and outlined for the State Counsel. As most lawyers start off as a State Counsel and then move on, the options available to the State Counsel must be broadened. We must be realistic and we cannot chase after the lawyers that joined the private bar and expect them to return to the public service as a magistrate. The salaries of State Counsels should be frozen and there should be an increase in the salary and/or gratuity of the magistrate, just enough to be competitive.
Another solution is to appoint the more senior Public Prosecutors as magistrates. Many legal personnel agree that a couple of the most senior public prosecutors could do a good job at dealing with criminal cases of the magistrates' courts. Although the public prosecutor has virtually no experience in civil matters, the more senior ones are very well versed in the criminal law and procedure.
Although it is now the practice that only qualified lawyers are appointed as magistrates, there is nothing in the law that prevents the more senior public prosecutors from being appointed as magistrates (with a criminal cases portfolio).
The crisis on the horizon can be averted.
The Robing Room is the official blog of the Seychelles Legal Environment Website (sites.google.com/site/theseychelleslegalenvironment), the only website about the Seychelles Legal Environment that is constantly updated.