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Archie defends selection process for judges

Published: 
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
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High Court Judges during yesterday’s Service of Divine Worship for the Ceremonial Opening of the 2018/2019 Law Term at the Port-of-Spain City Hall. Photo by:ANISTO ALVES

Chief Justice Ivor Archie has defended the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC)’s recruitment policy for judicial officers.

In his address at the Ceremonial Opening of the 2018/2019 Law Term yesterday, Archie, who chairs the JLSC, spent a considerable amount of time raising questions on a report on the issue, prepared by a special committee appointed by the Law Association of T&T (LATT), earlier this year.

“Although it contains some helpful observations, some of which I am in agreement with, I find myself respectfully unable to agree with several of its implicit and explicit assumptions,” Archie said, as he described his observations as constructive criticism.

Archie firstly took issue with the committee’s statements about the diversity of judicial officers as he debated whether it is, in fact, a problem.

“I suggest that at the High Court level there is no shortage of females, while the appellate bench simply reflects past historical trends for entry into the profession and not any bias in the appointment process, given the length of the period required to become an appellate judge,” Archie said.

He was also critical of the committee’s suggestion that a written examination for prospective judges was unfair to some candidates.

“Judges are required to produce written work of a high quality on short notice, as well as clear and logically reasoned extemporaneous decisions. That is the job that they are applying for and that is what the test is meant to assess,” Archie said, as he explained that such exams are used in business executive recruitment.

“Lawyers, I’m afraid, have no corner on integrity. If you do not have the humility to come and submit yourself to an exam, then you are lacking a key competency for the job.”

Archie also addressed the committee’s calls for additional consultation with the association prior to appointments, as he pointed out that it was used in the past but led to undue external influence in the process.

As he suggested that the association could help in the process, Archie said: “Since we are in the business of offering constructive suggestions, perhaps the LATT could assist by helping to make compulsory continuing education a reality, including training in the relevant skills identified, such as management of people and resources, so that we have a pool of applicants from which to make our selections.”

He also sought to debunk the committee’s concerns over the psychometric evaluation for candidates, as he pointed out that the tests were prepared, supervised and analysed by independent human resource experts and qualified psychologists.

Archie was careful to note that the only time a major issue was raised with the process was last year with the short-lived judicial appointment of former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar. But he simply cited the incident without mentioning Ayers-Caesar by name or commenting on a pending lawsuit, in which he (Archie) and the JLSC are being sued for allegedly pressuring her to resign.

While Archie disagreed with major segments of the committee’s report, he said he supported its call to make the JLSC focus mainly on judicial officers as opposed to its current remit, which includes thousands of lawyers working in State enterprises and government ministries.

Archie also took issue with suggestions over the independence of other members of the JLSC, which he noted were not made in the report.

“They were specifically chosen, I am sure, for their maturity and their independence. I know that they would never allow themselves to be bullied by a Chief Justice, not that I would ever attempt to do so,” Archie said.

Responding to Archie’s speech after the ceremony, LATT president Douglas Mendes, SC, thanked Archie for opening a public debate on the issue.

“I am actually quite delighted that the CJ spoke on the report and that he has drawn the public’s attention to the recommendations of the report. Of course, no one expects that everything in the report will meet with the agreement of everyone who reads it,” Mendes said.

“Certainly that sort of disagreement is a healthy disagreement and it provides the basis for debate.”

Stating that Parliament is currently considering legislation to increase the complement of judges by 15, Mendes said the association wrote to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi suggesting that reform of the recruitment process should proceed the filling of the vacancies.

“I think it is crucial at this time that we engage in this process before we start a new round of appointment of judges because you are talking about 15 new judges and that is going to impact upon the direction and the face of the Judiciary for generations,” Mendes said.

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