Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chief Justice Egonda-Ntende ushers in era of Judicial Reform

In the traditional speech delivered by the Chief Justice at the opening of the Supreme Court, newly appointed Chief Justice Egonda-Ntende this morning spoke at length on the need for judicial reform.

The opening of the Supreme Court is marked with a mass, alternating yearly from the Catholic and Anglican Cathedrals in Victoria. This year, the mass took place at the Anglican Cathedral - St. Paul's. Bishop Wiehe delivered the surmon and he spoke for transgressors to be punished, but also for them to be reformed.

This was followed by the procession, whereby the judges, magistrate, attorneys, state counsels, public prosecutors and judicial staff, in full courtroom attire, marched from St. Paul's Cathedral to the Supreme Court premises. Chief Justice Egonda-Ntende inspected the all- female guard of honour and greeted all the judicial officers present. Everyone then crowded into Courtroom no. 1 for the Chief Justice's speech. Also present were the President of the Court of Appeal Mr Francis MacGregor; Justices of Appeal Mr Jacques Hodoul and Mr Anthony Fernando, the Chairman of the Constitutional Appointments Authority Mr Jeremy Bonnelame, the Attorney General Mr Ronny Govinden and certain diplomatic figures.

The theme of Chief Justice Egonda-Ntende's speech was that of judicial reform. He mentioned the poor perception of the public, both locally and abroad, of the judiciary. He admitted that the views he has received represents only a fraction of society, but that the views appear to be unanimous. The perception of the public on the judiciary is wholely negative. The public sees the judiciary as inefficient and susceptible to external influence. He admitted that this is but a perception, and that that may not be in line with reality, but he added that the public's perception of the judiciary also needs to be addressed. He noted guidance on the way forward can be taken from our Constitution.

He proposed the creation of a court users committee comprising of representatives of various organisations of civil society, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Bar Association, which could consult directly with the judiciary with the aim of improving the service provided by the judiciary to the public at large.

He spoke of the mounting number of cases, both criminal and civil and noted that many more cases were being filed in court than that being disposed off. He stated that in order to deal with the case load there is a need for more Puisne Judges and more Magistrates. He stated such judicial officers should be sourced locally, for sustainable capacity. He noted that there is a need to improve the morale and job satisfaction of court staff and stated that one manner in which this may be addressed is through the increase in court staff salaries. He also mentioned that the judiciary should become financially independent, that the judiciary should have a closer reach of parliament in addressing its budget.

He spoke of the need for the improvement of the transcribing of court proceedings. He stated that the current equipment used and the current process is unacceptable. He pointed out that there were court proceedings over 2 years old that were yet to be transcribed. He proposed the bringing in of new equipment, especially that of multiple channel recording equipment, which would facilitate the process of transcribing court proceedings. He noted that this was a reason to delays.

Also with regards to delays in the court process, he noted that there were civil cases from 1998 that were still pending and criminal cases from 2000. He noted that there were numerous reasons for the delays but that one element was that of how easily cases can be adjourned. He spoke of trial date certainty and proposed that parties be penalised through costs for seeking adjournments, he admitted that there may be a need for legislative reform to usher this in. He stated that many civil matters could be settled out of court but for the fact that certain parties knew that they could take advantage of a slow judicial process. He reasoned that a speedier court process would encourage litigants to settle out of court.

He stated that he has been assured by the President of the Republic, James Michel, that he will be able to do his job without interference, and that the judiciary will be able to function independently and impartially. He noted that the independence of the judiciary is safeguarded and enshrined in the Constitution.

He ended his speech with a poem whose theme was the apparent impossibility of a task and of how everyone around you may state and firmly believe that a task was impossible to achieve, but that one had to at least try to achieve it. He asked for all stakeholders to work together to help reform the judiciary and stated that there is a lot of work to be done.

His speech was greeted with applause, which was against convention.

Thereafter, at the reception held at the court premises, many members of the Bar expressed that they were impressed with the Chief Justice's speech and hoped that he can effect the reforms he proposed. However, certain cynics believed that, however well intentioned Chief Justice Egonda-Ntende is, he will not be able to reform the judiciary alone.

Nevertheless, one member of the Bar quipped that, after a long while, Seychelles will have an independent judiciary once again. Another retorted that perhaps the Seychelles is only getting an independent Chief Justice.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment