Return of the panchayat

“They were valued only for the wealth which they yielded, and society there has never assumed any particularly noble aspect. There has been splendour and luxurious living, and there have been crimes and horrors, and revolts and massacres. There are no people there in the true sense of the word, with a character and purpose of their own.” James Anthony Froude: The English in the West Indies (1887). “I know Trinidad to be unimportant, uncreative, cynical... Power was recognised, but dignity was allowed to no one. Every person of eminence was held to be crooked and contemptible. We lived in a society which denied itself heroes. It was a place where stories were never stories of success but of failure... For talent, a futility, the Trinidadian substitutes intrigue; and in the exercise of this... he became a master.” V S Naipaul: The Middle Passage (1962).

“Members (of the jury) I mean no disrespect. I feel compelled to say that this system of justice is not working and it frightens me. It worries me as it should worry everyone else in this country... I am simply saying that it seems to me the system we have here is not working. I wonder whether or not our system of criminal justice really works.” High Court Judge Rajendra Narine in the San Fernando Criminal Assizes on May 6, 2005. “The budget of 2.5 Million Trinidad and Tobago Dollars which has been and continues to be the subject of comment in the Trinidad and Tobago media covered the costs associated with the inauguration of the Caribbean Court of Justice ...(the inauguration ceremony) was funded not by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, but by the combined efforts of the Caribbean region.” A paid “statement” in the daily newspapers in April, 2005 by an unsigned entity on behalf of the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Now just what is meant by “the entire inauguration” and “the Caribbean region” is any fool’s guess. The inherent dishonest stupidity of this advertisement continues the tradition of Froude and Naipaul and brings home to us, today, the fear of Justice Narine. The con job by the wasteful and obscene inauguration ceremonies attempting to launch the Caribbean Court of Justice perished in the fireworks which heralded its aborted arrival. This is an artificial Court created by impotent politicians in a vision of death as a solution to crime. Just who does the petty politician of the Caribbean believe he is fooling? Certainly not the Privy Council jurists who for years, did his legal reasoning for him.

This archipelagic gathering of impoverished island microstates thrown together by the power play of history. Which could not get a federation going fifty years after the first attempt. Which cannot make Caricom work after decades of Caribbean summits. Which will not agree on Freedom of movement or a common currency. Which creates a glorified Tribunal to deal with a single market economy not yet created. Which in their embarrassing impotence will permit two international corporations to dial a game of life and death with the only unifying force of the Caribbean: cricket. As the late Spoiler would declare: “Ah want to fall.” Will this Caribbean Court of Justice react to what has happened and what is happening to Brian Charles Lara and recently to George Bovell III? Will it keep BWIA in the air? Will Barbados “hoff” Tobago, flying fish and all, when we aren’t looking?

What really is the CCJ about? A judicial Cepep? Shortly after that dishonest Ad about the extravagant launch appeared a newsleak revealed that other jurisdictions were impressed by and are looking at how this CCJ is funded. In the field of Commercial law and giant international Corporations 100 million US dollars is money? They say the CCJ judiciary will be insulated against political interference. Who believes this? Spoiler will have to fall twice. The problem is not insulation of the judiciary. It is who will insulate the jury. Read Justice Narine. Who will protect the little folk of Trinidad?

It is sheer madness, judicial and otherwise to launch this Court without fixing the Trinidad Judiciary first. The fact is that the cost of litigation in the Civil High Court is way beyond the reach of the average person. Few can really afford Attorneys of the required class and quality in the matters which are usually before the Court: Commercial, Contract, Land and Probate Disputes, serious Accident Claims, Judicial Reviews, Injunction Relief, difficult Matrimonial matters. By the time the litigant reaches the Appeal Court he has aged and is emotionally and financially drained.

And because the threat and fear of contempt of Court looms large in small island societies (England is also an island) this is not the place to look at the quality, literary and otherwise of judicial merit, worth and decisions. But no one in his right mind would compare a seasoned Privy Council jurist, and, and there are many, to any and every practitioner of the Law in these islands. There was only one HOB Wooding. There is only one Tajmool Hosein. Just as there is only one Lara and one Bovell. To put it bluntly, legal aid or no legal aid, there is really no equal justice for the poor in our Civil Courts. As far as the Criminal Assizes are concerned if you can’t find a minimum of $50,000 start to read your Bible, Koran or Gita.

Unless there is an immediate rapid expansion of the Magistracy we really do not have a working legal system in this country. It’s all on paper. Like our constitution. The money spent to fete the CCJ birth could easily have repaired the San Fernando Magistracy and other Magistrate Courts. But then who cares about the safety and dignity of our Magistrates. Who cares that the vast majority of disputes are to be heard in the Magistracy. While the grass is growing the horse is starving. Do not starve. It’s reaching the stage where we must now abandon our Courts and return to the panchayat system. Almost all the petty Magisterial disputes could be settled by the disputants themselves, in person, with some help. There are enough lawyers around to advise lay judges. All our Churches, Mandirs, Mosques and legitimate community centres should be used to create a parallel judicial panchayat system.


"Return of the panchayat"

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