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Process needs re-evaluation

President of the Law Association of T&T (LATT), Douglas Mendes, SC, says it may be time to re-evaluate current manner in which judges are appointed, with a view to ensuring greater transparency and accountability and buttressing confidence in the process.

Mendes made the comment in a release yesterday, in response to the ongoing debate over the process in the recent appointment of three judges: former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar, former magistrate Avason Quinlan-Williams, wife of acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams, and attorney Kevin Ramcharan.

The swearing-in of the three new judges took place at the Office of the President on April 12, but Opposition Senators Gerard Ramdeen and Wayne Sturge have questioned the process and called for more transparency. Ramdeen challenged the shroud of secrecy in which the appointments are made and pointed out the the process should be opened up to public scrutiny. He also noted that Ayers-Caesar has left behind outstanding, part-heard matters, which was placing burden on an already challenged system.

Yesterday, Mendes admitted that the relative secrecy in which appointments to the judiciary are currently made, a process he admitted has been in place since independence, had the potential to encourage suspicion and amplify disquiet, ?especially in the darkness of a vacuum of information.?

He explained that the process currently includes the receipt of applications by interested candidates who are interviewed and their suitability evaluated in private by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC) in accordance with published criteria.

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He said such consultations are also done in private.

Ramdeen and Sturge have been criticised by some, including Public Utilities Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, for the adverse comments they have made against Chief Justice Ivor Archie and the process undertaken by the JLSC during their campaign.

In an apparent reference to this, Mendes said: ?We recognise the right of every citizen to pose legitimate questions regarding appointments to the judiciary, even if done forcefully, but always respectfully.?

He, however, added that care must be taken in the manner of questioning decisions made by the JLSC, as there is ?an imperceptible and illusive line beyond which the expression of even genuine disagreement may undermine the confidence which the public must continue to have in the administration of justice.?

On the question of Ayers-Caesar leaving behind outstanding matters, Mendes said the LATT also has immediate concerns over the issue.

?It is unfair that anyone should suffer the expense and anxiety of an avoidable repeat trial.

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The full extent of the prejudice which may have been caused is not yet known,? he said.

He said , however, that the LATT will be seeking to engage discussions with Archie, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard ?to assist in finding a workable solution.?

QUESTIONS MUST BE ANSWERED

In an immediate response yesterday, Ramdeen said it was unfortunate association had to reach to the point of calling for transparency.

Noting he and Sturge were forced to apply for information on the appointments under the Freedom of Information Act, Ramdeen said the best place to start is to change the process as even the LATT seems to agree ?that the administration of justice and the confidence that the people of T&T have in the institution of the judiciary can only benefit from such disclosures.?

He said it would be a serious blow to the administration of justice and the confidence the people have in the institution of the JLSC if any attempt is made to conceal the information requested.

?Those questions have to be answered if the judiciary is to remain an institution where the people of T&T can be confident that they can access justice fairly from that institution.

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Now that the questions have been asked, those vested with the responsibility to answer those questions will now provide the answers and any attempt otherwise will undermine the Constitution, the rule of law and the democracy of T&T as we know it,? he said.

After last week?s swearing-in ceremony, Archie defended the process used by the JLSC.

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Reading from a legal notice on the criteria for the recruitment of judges issued in April 2000, Archie said the process had always been transparent despite claims to the contrary.

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Among the criteria used, Archie said candidates were selected based on their professional competence, integrity, temperament and experience.

He noted that prospective candidates were required to sit an exam to objectively assess their intellectual and analytical ability and underwent a psychometric assessment from an independent service provider to judge their emotional balance and decisiveness.

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They were also required to submit reference letters from competent persons who are able to assess their suitability for the job based on the JLSC?s criteria.

Archie said he felt he had to explain the process to dispel what he described as ?unfair and uninformed criticism? of the body, which he also chairs.

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