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LEGAL LIMBO SNAFU

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Apparently nothing is done in Trinidad without bacchanal, a very local and well celebrated concept linked to confusion, high levels of anxieties and administrative mistakes.

And this is exactly what appears to have triggered the worst crisis in living memory in the island’s judiciary.

A few weeks ago, the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) appointed Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar and two other attorneys as judges of the high court, saying more judges were needed not only to fill gaps on the senior bench but to also address a backlog in cases.

But there was a major foul up that so irked members of the island’s bar association that they voted almost two to one to demand the resignation of Chief Justice Ivor Archie who heads the JLSC.

Voting at an unusually well attended emergency meeting of the Law Association, the body said it was embarrassed by a comedy of errors of the Archie-led commission as the body had not done its investigative work properly and went ahead and appointed Ayers Caesar to the bench leaving dozens of cases unheard or part heard.

To the law association, this was a major act of judicial idiocy as debate raged as to whether most of the matters were simply paper committals or were plain and simply partly heard matters. Lawyers argued that it was unfair to prisoners and defendants awaiting the completion of their trials to have them restart all over again, incur addiction expenses including legal fees and other forms of stress.

The snafu and the backlash from various sections of society over the appointment quickly forced Ayers-Caesar to resign her appointment after only two weeks on the bench and to basically leave the lower magistrate’s courts in a crisis.

The Trinidad Express Newspaper dubbed the issue as “a judicial tragedy of errors”, pointing to near mutiny of prisoners at the Port of Spain Magistrate’s Court when they learned that she was leaving the magistracy. Dozens of prisoners and several wardens were forced to seek medical attention after fights broke out with news about her departure from the bench and incomplete cases.

In all the lawyers body, said, the magistrate-judge had left 54 incomplete matters and might have misled the JLSC by indicating that most were simply paper committals for new dates. They blamed the JLSC for poor due diligence work.

“We have immediate concerns about the fact that a judge was appointed and took up office leaving behind outstanding, part-heard matters,” said Association President Douglas Mendes.

For their part, the JLSC contended that “anyone who is appointed has been through one of the most rigorous selection processes you can find anywhere in the region or Commonweal­th,” as it stayed clear from providing too many details.

Justice Archie has said he has no plans to resign anytime soon and other members of the body have said that she could simply go down back to the lower court, complete the matters in about six months then take up her appointment as a judge. Other members have not said much.

The main bone of contention among the bar is that the body “was reckless and or negligent in selecting the chief magistrate for appointment as a pusine judge without first ensuring that she had no part heard matters or had completed any part heard matters pending at the time of her appointment.”

As the weeks go by, former Justice Marcia Ayers-Caesar is without a job and her future hangs in limbo even as the disquiet from the fiasco has failed to temper down.

Updated 3:05 am, July 10, 2018
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