Mary Macdonald, registrar of the judicial committee of the Privy Council, has been on an official visit in Mauritius since Monday to ?inspect? a few things ? among which the infrastructure ? to see whether the lords could practically sit in Mauritius. Interestingly enough, she has declined to comment.
Attorney general Rama Valayden seems very positive regarding the outcome of this visit. ?They haven?t said anything yet ? and I didn?t think they would ? but I gather with the kinds of questions they are asking and the fact that they are really getting in the nitty-gritty of details, that the law lords are seriously considering our offer?, he told l?express on Tuesday.
If the answer is indeed positive, the judicial committee of the Privy Council will sit in Mauritius as from September next year and will do so every September of every year. This, of course, doesn?t mean that court cases on appeal will have to wait a year to be heard ? Mauritian cases will still be heard in England. But local lawyers will be able to plead before the law lords and the Mauritian public will have the opportunity to attend court cases. Below are comprehensive answers to questions one usually asks about the Privy Council and how it works.
● What is the Privy Council?
The Privy Council, formerly Her Majesty?s Most Honourable Privy Council, is a body that advises the Monarchy. In the United Kingdom, the Privy Council consists of all members of the cabinet, former cabinet ministers and other distinguished persons appointed by the Sovereign. Its functions include issuing orders in council, granting Royal charters and acting as a court of appeal from British courts in overseas territories. The cabinet is only formally a committee of the Privy Council.
● What is our link to the Privy Council?
The Privy Council is the ultimate judiciary body ? equivalent to a Supreme Court ? for many Commonwealth countries that were formerly part of the British Empire and Britain?s continuing overseas territories. Privy Council decisions are not binding on courts in England but as the judges of the Privy Council ? known as law lords ? are usually the same judges who sit in the House of Lords, the decisions are considered highly persuasive.
● Are the decisions of the Privy Council binding on Mauritian courts?
Yes, because as mentioned before, the Privy Council is the ultimate judiciary body. In Mauritius, we refer to it as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council because that?s what it is to countries that have become a republic. Mauritius has chosen to retain this appeal to the Privy Council after its independence and has again made the choice after having changed its status to Republic.
● Why are the judges called Law lords?
Law Lords are legally qualified members of the House of Lords. Five judges normally sit to hear Commonwealth appeals. The judicial committee sits in Downing Street and hears about 60 cases a year.
● Is the right of appeal to the Privy Council a good thing?
It is generally believed to be but some Supreme Court judges ? including the Chief Justice ? have expressed reservations about some of the rulings ? especially when Privy Council judgments have reversed Supreme Court decisions ? and made a few scathing comments along the way. The most common criticism is that the realities of Mauritius are too remote for the Law Lords to judge Mauritian cases.
Pro-Privy Council lawyers argue that this is precisely what we need ? being far removed from prejudices and bias and deciding a case simply on the principles of law.
How expensive is an appeal to the Privy Council?
Rather expensive. Although the cost varies, an appeal costs some Rs 2 million. This is not a good thing because justice is supposed to be within the reach of the common people. Then again, an appeal is an appeal ? justice is available locally at a lower cost. It seems that the cost will not go down by much even though the Lords will be sitting in Mauritius. For some, however, freedom has no cost ? Lawyer Dev Hurnam arrested and denied bail by all the courts in Mauritius, was freed after having appealed to the Privy Council. The Law Lords tend to have a very pro-human rights approach, which does not always find favour with more conservative judges, lawyers and decision makers.