Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Lesser Tribunals - Losing Their Purpose

The court hierarchy in Seychelles has the Seychelles Court of Appeal at its apex, this is the final appellate court in the country, then there is the Supreme Court of Seychelles and then the Magistrates Courts. But there are several other 'lesser' courts and tribunals.

These lesser courts deal with specific issues. For example, there is the Employment Tribunal, this deals with disputes between employers-employees in the private sector.

There are several reasons why lesser tribunals are created. One key reason is so that the higher courts are not clogged up dealing with very particular issues, this therefore frees up the time of the higher courts to deal with other matters.

Another reason in support of lesser tribunals is that they usually cut through all the legalese and are mandated by law not to follow strict legal procedure (although the most essential legal principles must be followed to ensure a fair hearing), this is so that the layman can represent himself before the tribunals, saving himself the costs of obtaining legal representation. By cutting through all the legalese, the lesser tribunals also aim to resolve disputes quickly. This is also a key reason in support of lesser tribunals, they are meant to handle matters quickly and efficiently.

In theory, this all sounds good. But the reality is a different story.

The Family Tribunal is in charge of handling disputes closest to the heart. They deal with child custody, access and maintenance issues. They also deal with domestic violence disputes and many other related matters. The Family Tribunal is now taking so much time to deal with issues. Parties with an urgent matter that need resolution now have to wait for at least several months to obtain a hearing date, this means several months with their problems hanging in the air, the agony of waiting whilst tension fills the domestic scene of a Seychellois home. Perhaps there should be more than just one Family Tribunal sitting at any one time. And then there are reports that the Family Tribunal makes orders in ignorance of the law. There are rulings which show that they have ordered spouses to divide their property when this is not in the jurisdiction of the Family Tribunal (it is the Supreme Court which determines matrimonial property disputes). There are rulings which appear to be unconstitutional whereby the Family Tribunal orders a landowner to leave his own property due to allegations of violence from his partner (who he is not married with) - there are cases where a landowner has to leave his own property indefinitely. The Family Tribunal is now evicting the owner of a property from their own land. Not only has the Family Tribunal cut out a lot of the legalese in procedure, it now appears to be simply ignoring the law altogether, but we cannot blame the Family Tribunal entirely, it has had almost no support from the appeals/judicial review cases against its decisions or procedures brought before the Supreme Court. For quite a while we have had a Supreme Court that was unwilling to interfere with rulings of the Family Tribunal in its appellate jurisdiction. In the process, the Supreme Court has therefore encouraged the current state of the Family Tribunal. It is hoped that this can change with the new Chief Justice.

The Rent Control Board often referred to simply as the Rent Board, is in charge of dealing with landlord-tenant disputes, primarily evictions. Again, legal procedure is not followed strictly, so this should ensure the quick resolution of disputes. Unfortunately, this is not the case, the Rent Board takes so much time to resolve disputes that it actually helps the tenant who is not paying his rent, allowing him to stay at the landlord's premises for several more months, rent free. There are even cases where, due to numerous adjournments on flimsy grounds, a tenant has been basking in the sun of a rent-free lifestyle for years. In the meantime, the poor landlord has do with no rental income during all that time, and if that income were his only source of income, what about the landlord's other financial obligations? What if he needs that income to repay a loan? The Rent Board also deals with disputes regarding commercial property. It is now the case that more and more landlords are demanding for 3 to 6 months deposit from their potential tenants simply because they are now wary of how slow the Rent Board functions. The Rent Board is therefore, effectively, causing rent deposits to rise due to how slow it resolves disputes. Interestingly, the Rent Board only sits for two afternoons a week. Surely, given the number of disputes that continue to be filed verses the lower numbers being disposed off, the Rent Board can be allowed to sit for much more than just two afternoons per week.

The relatively new Employment Tribunal can also be criticized on the same vein. Surely it can sit much more often that it does presently.

Then there is the ITZ Employment Authority, presently under SIBA's mandate, its catalogue of errors on the most basic legal issues are often quite unbelievable. But can you blame the persons who are placed in the positions they are in, to decide on legal disputes involving Seychelles ITZ Employment laws without the guidance of an actual lawyer in their board (all the other lesser tribunals generally have at least a lawyer as its Chairman).

A complete review of the Lesser Tribunals need to be done, it is quite clear that they are functioning below par and are at risk of losing their very purpose - efficient and speedy resolution of disputes, if they haven't already.

The Robing Room is the official blog of the Seychelles Legal Environment Website (, the only website about the Seychelles Legal Environment that is constantly updated.

No comments:

Post a Comment