Bishop Friday urged CMG legal body not to accept bribes
Do not accept bribes, do not distort justice, and do not show partiality; the Bishop of the Anglican Church the Right Reverend C Leopold Friday CMG told judges and the legal body this Monday.
The Bishop was quoting the book of Deuteronomy while delivering a sermon at an ecumenical service to mark the beginning of the 2020 law term.
The service, which took place at the Cathedral of the Assumption on the morning of January 13, was attended by Justices, judges, senior lawyers, junior lawyers, and police officers of all ranks.
Justices Nicola Byer, Esco Henry, Brian Cottle, newly assigned acting High Court Justice Angelica Teelucksingh, acting Master Tamara Gill, and Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne were all judicial officers present at the service.
The sermon began with a reference to Deuteronomy 16:18, which speaks to judges and justice, and states, “You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns, the Lord your God has given you. You must not distort justice, you must not show partiality, you must not accept bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the wise and subverts all those who are in the right.
Justice and only justice you shall pursue so that you may live and occupy the land the Lord your God has given you.”
This phrase was repeated multiple times throughout the Bishop’s address, fashioned around the theme “Justice and only Justice you shall pursue”.
Friday noted that the Israelites recognized that prosperous lives in the land would not continue if they abandoned God, and “Likewise it could not continue if the scourge of judicial corruption took root or became entrenched at the social level. The integrity of the judicial system was basic to the preservation of society.
He said that in every society there will be some level of injustice, but if we fail to defend the means of restitution and redress themselves from corruption, “there will be despair, misery and oppression.”
Research reveals that corruption in society includes political interference in the judicial process, and bribery, the Right Reverend continued.
“Bribery and political influence in the justice system erodes social cohesion and disrupts and hinders community growth and development, and reduces the ability of the justice system to fight against corruption and to serve as a body which inspires and promotes freedom, self confidence, integrity, independence and accountability,” Friday noted.
He gave some examples of possible corruption in a judicial system, citing the misuse of judicial funds and power, unfair case allocation and other pretrial proceedings such as “when bribed court clerks ‘lose’ files and evidence”, court officials who seek bribes for services, and the lawyers that charge additional fees to extradite or delay cases, or direct their clients to judges who are known to accept bribes.
“There is some concern that poor salaries, insecure working conditions, unfair promotion and transfer processes and a lack of continuous training can make judges and other court personnel vulnerable or susceptible to bribery,” he continued.
In pursuing only Justice, the Bishop stated that there is a need for all persons, especially those in justice, to submit to “a transcendent norm.”
He also submitted ten “commandments” coming out of Singapore for an improved judicial system. Examples of these are that there should be full transparency in the justice process at all times, transparency in selection of judges based on merit, competency and experience, and performance standards for the judiciary and the judges with time-based, volume-based and disposal-based indicators.
In the special sitting of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) that followed this, Justice Brian Cottle referenced the earlier sermon.
He said that if those that attended could take anything away from the events of the morning, “We can do a lot worse than remember that Bishop Friday reminded us that justice is something which is meant for the benefit of all of the people.”
“So the judiciary is not appointed or controlled by the Executive. The judges are expected to serve all of the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The judges are expected to serve them fairly,” he listed.
Cottle commented that on behalf of himself, and his sister judges, who sat on either side of him, “I recommit, again, that that is something that we will always be striving to do.”
“We will strive to be impartial. We will strive to, always, to do nothing to distort justice,” he assured, and that “certainly; we will be accepting no bribes.”