Sir Victor Glover: “In an enlightened society, there comes a point when there is no use in keeping someone in jail”

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Sir Victor Glover, former chief justice.

Sir Victor Glover, former chief justice.

He was calm, composed and, at the age of 86, Sir Victor Glover, former chief justice, was perfectly lucid. His English is impeccable and he took time to think before answering several questions. When the answer came out, it was non-negotiable. We tried relaying people’s fears and criticism. He stood his ground. An open and very informative interview…

Former Judge Lam Shang Leen, in his report on the drug trafficking situation, pointed out that when the Commission on the Prerogative of Mercy (CPM) granted remission to the notorious drug dealer, Peeroomal Veeren, they sent the wrong signal. As chairman of the CPM, how do you react to that?

I react by saying that the people who say these things were not in the meetings of the commission, did not have the file and were not in presence of the facts that we had. So when we made the decision to advise the Head of the State, we took all kinds of circumstances into consideration. So the fact that the fellow is a drug addict is not enough to say that ‘sorry you won’t get a remission’.

But he was not an addict; he was a convicted drug dealer. So on what basis was a big chunk of his sentence knocked off?

What we do is advise the president to remit part of the sentence, say from 35 years to 25 years. When we advise the president along those lines, we take into account all the circumstances before us: does the detainee have a wife waiting at home, does he have children growing up without him, aside from his drug activities, does he have another business to run? A number of things come into consideration.

Do you also take into consideration that he might be killing others people’s children?

Of course we do!

Why would you feel sorry for somebody like Veeren?

Let me point out something: I am the chairman of the commission, but there are others sitting on it and the three of us advise the president and the president takes the decision, not the commission. The commission only takes the circumstances presented to it into consideration and says that instead of making someone serve 35 years, a 25-year sentence is reasonable. That is all there is to it.

The president acts on your advice; he does not take the decision. When we spoke to Cassam Uteem about this, his answer was that when he was president of the Republic, he sometimes called the chairman of the CPM to offer his suggestions but that, at the end of the day, it is the commission that decides not the president.

That is because the Constitution says that the commission advises the Head of State, and the Head of State can refer the matter back only once and then if it goes back to him again, he has to follow the commission’s recommendation.

So at the end of the day, the powers of the president are very limited and the decision is basically taken by the commission, isn’t it?

That depends on who the members of the commission are. I have been the chairman for six or seven years now. I think we have had a matter referred back to us twice.

By which president?

I would not be able to tell: I think one was Anerood Jugnauth and the other, Kailash Purryag. In those two cases, we went along with the president’s advice.

You chose to. You were not obliged to do so?

Yes. We took the route that he is the Head of State, that he has a long experience and we gave some weight to what he said.

That is to your credit and that of the president but in 99.9% of the cases referred to the State House, the president basically acts as a rubber stamp, doesn’t he?

When we advise the president, the chairman writes a minute to him of about eight or 10 lines, to explain why we have decided A or B. He has that in front of him.

So what you are telling me is that when it comes to Veeren, former Supreme Court Judge Paul Lam Shang Leen had no reason to criticise the CPM’s decision?

He had no reason to criticise without at least giving me a phone call and asking me what was what.

Don’t you yourself think that you are sending a wrong signal by opting to reduce the sentence of a drug dealer killing our children and society?

We look at the facts; it’s not a question of feeling this way or that. The question for us was whether it was right to do so in the circumstances. So we did it.

In the case of Veeren, he was facing another case, so it was not like he was someone who had put his past behind him. He was facing another sentence also for drug trafficking. Do you understand why Lam Shang Leen raised the issue?

All I can say is that I am experienced enough not only in law but in life in general, to say that if the commission took a certain decision, there was reason to do it. So there is no reason for me to be alarmed just because Mr. Lam Shang Leen says so, whoever he is.

Looking at the people who were granted remission by the commission in the last three years, many are drug traffickers. Why?

First of all, let us say that we handle about 80 petitions per month. Out of those, 60 come from drug traffickers or those convicted of drug offences. There is a high proportion of prisoners who are involved in drugs who come to our commission.

In recent years, from what we could gather, the number of petitions granted to drug traffickers has gone up, whereas convictions for drug trafficking have gone down. So what is the explanation for that?

I don’t have any explanation for that. Leave drug trafficking aside for one moment. The number of petitions have increased over the last years… there has been a large increase in the number of employers who will not employ or promote somebody unless they have a clean Certificate of Character. There was a time when you could only be barred from the public service for that. Nowadays, every Tom, Dick and Harry will not employ you unless you have a clean certificate. That is why a large number of those petitions come from people who have had convictions for drug offences, not necessarily traffickers.

We would have been happy if the commission were just reducing the sentences of people convicted for possession of cannabis. Unfortunately, the names we have are those convicted for drug trafficking. Hence the criticism. These are not small time users, but traffickers.

I know that we have reduced the sentence for at least two women for drug offences. For us at the commission, we don’t send a woman to prison for 32 years, whatever the offence is. There are at least two such cases. When I looked at the file, I said, ‘please not 32!’ So they said, ‘okay 22!’ That’s one reason why we grant remission. Let’s say in another case, there is a man who is 52 years old and he will be kept in jail for another 18 years. He will be over 70 when he is released.

That’s okay. Let them rot in jail!

You say that. I say that is not part of an enlightened, democratic society. Just today, we had a case where a prisoner is 71 years old and the prison authorities tell me there is no point in keeping him in jail. He just sits around staring at the walls and doing nothing. We have to feed him with state money. So why not let him go home?

A court of law in a democratic country handed down that sentence. What is undemocratic about that?

In an enlightened society, there comes a point when there is no use in keeping someone in jail. The sentence may have been appropriate at the time. Besides, when the court passes a sentence, it takes into account sentences passed in other cases. If in one case the sentence is 25 years, a magistrate cannot say that in another it will 10 years. Fair enough. But when the fellow is over 70 and is sitting around and costing the state money, better let him go and lie in bed at home.

He should be lying on that bed in prison and repenting for what he did.

That is one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is to consider the state in which the fellow or woman is and act accordingly. If that means reducing the sentence by 10 years, so what?

Doesn’t that encourage other drug traffickers to maybe commit more offences? In some countries, they have the death penalty for these kinds of offences. Here we are lenient enough to hand out 35 years. If you are then going to reduce that by another 10, aren’t you killing the deterrent element?

I don’t think anybody dealing drugs sits and thinks about what kind of sentence he will get and how many years will get knocked off it in the exceptional case that the CPM grants remission. He thinks he will never get caught.

You’ve offered your explanation about why you act in certain cases. Don’t you think the public should have the right to know?

Ask the president. I have no right to go to the press and explain why we decide what we decide. At the end of the day, the president may be a rubber stamp but the Constitution says that it is his decision. He grants a pardon or a remission. I cannot go around giving reasons why he does it.

Would you recommend to the president to make the reasons behind a decision public for the sake of transparency?

I don’t think a Head of State should be forced to do that.

Would you think it a good idea for your reasoning and decisions to be made public, just like the court sentences that preceded your decision are public?

(He takes a long time to reflect) No, because the court decisions are subject to appeal whereas the commission’s decisions are not.

But why don’t you think it’s a good idea to make the reasons public instead of having people ask questions and impute motives?

I still say no. It would start arguments to which there would be no end.

It would stop the criticism as well.

The criticism could be stopped if those making it think that I am acting in good faith.

We are talking about the institution. I mean another chairman could be appointed, and not everybody can be given the same credit of good faith as you. So what happens then?  

Ah… what I am asking for is that for as long as I am there, accept that whatever I do, I do it in good conscience and after careful consideration. My son Gavin Glover was telling another lawyer, ‘My father is the chair of the CPM and the files of the commission are sometimes on my table there. If I wanted to make a lot of money, you know what I would do. But we don’t operate that way’.

But for the sake of the institution, don’t you think at some point, it would be good to introduce some transparency?

It’s not a question of transparency. The Head of State takes a decision after being advised by the commission, not only whose chairman can be trusted but whose other members too are people whom one can trust. One may disagree with the advice given but that is no reason for going public and starting arguments.

That’s what transparency is about. You do realise that the commission has huge amounts of power and the people who make such big decisions are nominated, not by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission but by politicians. Is it normal that they have that kind of power to lower sentences without explaining why?

No, I still don’t agree. It’s not a question of transparency. It would be wrong to allow those kinds of arguments. I mean this is one newspaper (pointing to Weekly). There are something like 40 newspapers in the country. Imagine if each of them started arguing why it was okay for remission for X but not for Y! That would only create confusion and arguments that would not take us anywhere.

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