‘Unwarranted attacks on judiciary by the public increased in 2020’
The year 2020 has seen “unwarranted and vitriolic attacks” by members of the public on the judiciary as a whole, as well as individual judges.
Towards the end of her annual speech, marking the opening of the 2021 law year, the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC), Dame Janice M Pereira, made note of their grave concern on this matter.
The Chief Justice’s address was part of a virtual court sitting, live streamed to the nine member states and territories of the ECSC. St Vincent and the Grenadines is one of these member states, but Pereira made no specific mention of any country when she touched on this topic.
While the Court has been busy in 2020, attempting to minimize the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on access to justice, she said, “there is an area of grave concern emanating from certain quarters outside of the judiciary.”
Pereira noted that she would be remiss to not raise it.
“Over this last year we witnessed unwarranted and vitriolic attacks on the judiciary as an institution and on judges as individuals; by members of the public,” Pereira said.
“The frequency of these attacks is becoming alarming with the potential for causing grave harm to the safeguards which are entrenched in our constitutions for preserving and upholding the rule of law.”
There have apparently been many times last year when the Bar Associations and legal practitioners have had to speak out against this.
However, she stated, “I wish to remind legal advisers, as officers of the court, and who seemingly stay silent in the face of these unwarranted attacks, that they become enablers and complicit in the undermining of the administration of justice.”
Such behaviour must be “publicly and vociferously rebuffed at every turn”, as silence in the face of the attacks only serve to give them credence, the Chief Justice stated.
It is not improper for persons to criticize a judicial decision or file an appeal, she told offenders, but “it is quite wrong to engage in baseless personal attacks” against a judge or the judiciary, as a whole, simply because they ruled against them.
“It is worth reminding that judicial officers take an oath to do justice according to law, not according to man or woman. It was Aristotle who said, and I quote, ‘at his best, man is the noblest of all animals. Separated from law and justice, he is the worst,” she contended.
Pereira also sought to reiterate, on a “related” note, that the judicial branch of the state, remains an independent and essential check “on all forms of power and on all threats of injustice, for the protection of every individuals’ rights and freedoms.”
Therefore, she cautioned against a blurring of the lines between the judiciary and the other branches of Government, namely the Executive and the Legislator. Further, she added that they should “never allow ourselves to be lulled into a sense of complacency.”
On the other hand, unwarranted attacks on the judiciary should not be allowed to become acceptable, no matter who utters the words of attack, the Chief Justice cautioned.
“Our Judges must therefore remain resolute, confident, and vigilant in rendering justice without fear or favour, in accordance with their oath,” she concluded.