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Seychelles National Party (SNP)
A reflection on the judiciary
Of the three branches of government, the one that has been the most neglected and controlled has been the judiciary. Maybe the relocation of the courthouse from the centre of Victoria to a reclaimed island should have been the biggest indication that the executive wanted to diminish its importance and hope that eventually the proverbial ‘out of sight, out of mind’ would come true.
After nearly one year, a Chief Justice has been appointed. This is in stark contrast to the two other branches, where leadership positions have known continuity. Why has the judiciary suffered such negligence and uncertainty? Why has the branch of government with the most qualified professionals been treated with such contempt by those who do not match the level of qualification?
Maybe we can start by the Constitutional Appointments Authority itself. Whereas both the DP and the SNP sought to nominate highly qualified individuals to the CAA, we have seen the SPPF/Parti Lepep and the PDM treat this institution simply as another political one. They have chosen to name political activists without much qualification to name the judges. Not only that, but with their majority of 2, the ruling party has always sought to appoint Seychellois judges whom they thought would side with them in important cases. Their reaction to these judges’ independence has been one of disgust and right now they are still trying to find ways of ridding the courts of some of them. Really sad.
Qualified professionals like Nicole Gehardi-Tirant, Melchior Vidot, Alexia Amesbury and others, have seen their applications go to the bin, whereas foreigners have been granted citizenship in order to work on a local contract until they are 72. Some Seychellois have been placed on the fast track from magistrate to judge, overtaking their seniors. All this points to the uncertainty as far as promotion is concerned.
In fact, this is one area, where I believe we have a lot to learn from Mauritius. From what I have learned, in Mauritius, any judge knows that the possibility of being the Chief Justice is real. It is based on seniority. This gives encouragement to everyone, because they know that they will probably receive the honour towards the end of their career. I only wish Seychelles would have adopted such a principle and this in itself would have avoided the situation of there not having a Chief Justice for over a year.
But on the other hand, we can also question the decision of the CAA and the president in not naming Judge Karunakaran, who sat as the `Chief Justice by interim’ during the period. If he managed the institution for such long time, the logic would surely be that he should be officially appointed. But this all goes to show that the judiciary remains the institution that the executive wants to control and do whatever it wishes with. And this is not only wrong, but dangerous.
I started the column by stating that the Judiciary is composed of qualified professionals. I have no doubt that Mrs Mathilda Thomey is one of those individuals and that she has proved her abilities as a Justice of Appeal. My reflection is how will her appointment reflect on her colleagues who have been there as her senior, and who suddenly realise that this post is unreachable for them? How would anyone feel in that situation?
This attitude, practiced by this government helps divide our people and bring disgust and discouragement. I only wish our country would be given the chance at the next election to put these things straight. Our institutions need this breath of fresh air.
Our Judiciary needs to be given the attention it needs in order to be the respected and independent institution that ensures the rule of law is applicable to all its citizens and justice and fairness reign. It should be freed from all the shackles of politics and the Executive should NEVER be able to interfere in its running. There are too many examples of this happening.
Give the Judiciary their independence. This could well start by having a fresh look at the CAA. Why can’t the Judiciary have their own clear mechanism for the appointment of judges? Why should political appointees in the form of the CAA be given this task?
The time is now for this change to happen.
By: Wavel Ramkalawan