The judiciary is in danger of becoming ridiculous. Right at the time when the courts are increasingly becoming places where political careers hang in the balance (Pravind Jugnauth with Medpoint and Ramgoolam with FIAMLA), it is also becoming blatantly obvious that as currently constituted, the court system cannot be more inadequate to deal with political matters.
The solution is a fast-track political court to deal exclusively with cases involving elected representatives or who were elected representatives when the facts of the case took place. Rather than such cases being put in a long queue amongst ordinary run-of-the-mill matters, and then interminably winding through the Intermediate and Supreme Courts and then, inevitably, the Privy Council, such cases should be sent to a specially constituted Political Court. No delays, no schedules to manage and no long adjournments allowed. But, a constitutional purist might ask, why do politicians deserve their own court and be treated preferentially by a court system that trods along at a snail’s pace for everybody else? The answer to that is that no matter how long a case might take, an ordinary citizen will never be in a position to sabotage it or impose his or her will on a court. Given enough time, a politician might. That’s why it’s important to dispose of politicians’ cases early.
Just look at what is happening right now. In 2012, Pravind Jugnauth sued the state for Rs100 million for being ‘wrongfully arrested’. He was a mere opposition figure then. But by the time the case has winded through the court system and come up for hearing this year, Jugnauth is now the prime minister. His lawyer is Saya Ragavoodoo, whom he has just rewarded by installing her at the Electoral Boundaries Commission. The defence of the State is headed by a senior state attorney who works for the attorney general, Maneesh Gobin, who owes his job to Jugnauth and who serves at Jugnauth’s pleasure. It’s not hard to see what the next act in this play is. That’s because it has happened before: in 2004, there was the Sun Trust case where Jugnauth and the MSM contested an earlier decision by the Labour Party to move ministry offices out of the Sun Trust building owned by the very same Jugnauths. They contested that move in court. But by the time the case made it to court, Jugnauth was in power alongside the MMM. The judge in that particular case was gob smacked at the fact that the State attorneys (who now worked for Jugnauth) did not put up a fight and presented no evidence to defend the state. Jugnauth walked away with over Rs45 million of public money. Or remember Raj Dayal’s case against his firing as police commissioner? By the time the case came to court, Dayal was an MSM parliamentarian in an MSM-led government. His old lawyer, Maneesh Gobin, was now the attorney general. Dayal walked away with a Rs15 million ‘settlement’.
The problem, however, is not just restricted to the MSM. Right now, the Labour Party leader, Navin Ramgoolam, is suing the state for Rs225 million as is Shakeel Mohamed for Rs50 million. If Labour returns to power, and these cases finally make it to court then, what’s the likelihood that will they will lose?
This gaming of the court system by politicians is reducing the Judiciary to the level of a joke. Worse, since of course all the payouts are essentially coming out of public funds, it’s beginning to resemble a sanctified species of corruption. Only this time blessed by the court.
A fast-track Political Court, on the other hand, by disposing of cases quickly, will not only reduce backlogs in other courts but also minimise the risks of such transparent manipulation. To make doubly sure that such a court operates properly, the judges should be paid more than judges sitting in other courts but, in return, they should be made ineligible for being nominated to commissions of enquiry either pre- or post-retirement, to remove dangerous temptations.
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