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Activist: Don’t pay judges for late rulings

Wednesday, December 11 2013

HUMAN Rights activist, former Independent Senator Diana Mahabir-Wyatt has come out in support of High Court judge, Justice Carol Gobin’s recommendation to withhold the pay of judges who are tardy in delivering judgments within six months of the conclusion of a case.

“Carol Gobin was right, of course. As everyone in the rest of the country knows as year-end bonus time rolls around, executive remuneration is tied to achievement of productive goals. If you don’t show results, your salary and benefits are affected. That is the way the world works for us lesser mortals. Why should judges be exempt? If they are paid to produce judgements , as their job title suggests, why should they get paid if they don’t produce?” said Mahabir-Wyatt, who is also a labour relations specialist.

Speaking in her capacity as a member of the Trinidad and Tobago Counsel for Human Rights, Mahabir-Wyatt in a letter to the media, said there appeared to be a valid reason for the focus on the reputation of the judicial system at this time since, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Gobin’s recommendations made in her personal capacity to the National Constitution Reform Commission (NCRC) were reported exclusively in Sunday Newsday on December 1. Gobin has reportedly defended her submission to the NCRC.

Mahabir-Wyatt said although she had no connection with the criminal courts, she did, from time to time, interact with people who have matters in the Family Court.

“When justice is delayed there, the human rights of children and their families are denied, and their lives affected, sometimes forever. One member of that court has judgments outstanding for 13 months in one case and four years in another,” she said.

Mahabir-Wyatt referred to a recent Privy Council judgment — Ramnarine vs Ramnarine — which was also cited by Gobin, where the British Law Lords were critical of the delays to deliver judgments in the local courts.

In that case, the delay of over 16 years in the final determination of the divorce proceedings was described as “startling”. The British Law Lords were also critical of the judge’s delay of four years to give his ruling after the case had concluded before him.

Mahabir-Wyatt said the British Law Lords “went on to shame the entire Trinidad and Tobago judicial system by saying that it declines to accept that a delay of that magnitude is unremarkable in Trinidad and Tobago.”

“It went on to note, with some sarcasm, that in the TT Family Proceedings Rules which came into force ten years ago, the overriding objective of the new rules is to enable the court to deal justly with family matters including that they are dealt with expeditiously.”

She said elsewhere, the Privy Council has held that 12 months delay in delivering a judgment is to be considered excessive.

“Carol Gobin’s questions which she asked on behalf, perhaps, of those of us who have no voice in the administration of justice, but which affect the entire country should apply as well to the proceedings in the Family Court, an institution which had been one of the proudest achievements in the struggle to care for and protect children that this country has ever produced,” Mahabir-Wyatt said. In her submission to the NCRC, Gobin said judges ought not to be insulated from accountability in the fundamental execution of their duties.

“The primary function of the judge is to settle disputes by deciding cases. Judges are expected to decide cases competently and expeditiously,” she said.

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