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Uncommon common sense

Friday, September 18, 2015
Centre Stage

“Common sense is not so common,” wrote Voltaire, the French writer and philosopher in the 18th century. Chief Justice Ivor Archie’s words “What Trinidad and Tobago needs is a good dose of common sense,” though sounding simple is really a centuries-old problem that has not yet found resolution. This does not mean that attempts cannot be made to resolve it.

Interestingly, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” is one of the sayings in the New Testament in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Leadership is all about accepting responsibility and not passing the buck.

New court buildings may be necessary but let us first examine the existing court system. Judges and magistrates begin hearing matters at 9 am, if luck prevail, and end, in almost all cases that I have seen, at 1 pm. This represents just four hours of work. This alone implies two days to do one day’s work. 

We blame Cepep and URP for doing just a few hours of work per day, how different are judges and magistrates? The excuse of writing up their notes is very weak in this age of technology where every single sound can be captured by appropriate equipment. And then, there is the stenographer.

How many times, spanning years, has a case been postponed? At what cost to the litigants? I know of people who have died waiting for the courts to deal with their matters. I fully agree with the Chief Justice regarding some attorneys who abuse the process, although I believe that “some” may represent the majority rather than be in the minority. 

What measures are in place to prevent this practice? What is being done to address such abuse?

“Holding court” does not require any special building or place. What is required is the ability to hold court. 

I also agree with the Chief Justice regarding “…incarcerating people for two marijuana cigarette.” But what has been done? What has happened to the idea of night courts? 

Using technology to videoconference court proceedings from the prisons so as to prevent the unavoidable lateness, absence or even transportation costs and its ancillary services?

These do not require special or new buildings, just proper leadership. Good chief executive officers will put the necessary systems and processes in place to achieve their objectives. Not all may be agreed to by their bosses, be they Board or minister, but this does not negate the fact that the objectives must still be championed.

The Chief Justice is the chief executive officer of the judiciary and whilst I laud his speech and empathise with his frustrations, he needs to reassess the judicial systems and processes that currently frustrate the judicial system, including the litigants. 

I am not sure that new or additional buildings will solve the current ills of the judicial system but more aggressive leadership will certainly put resolution on the right road. 


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