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A closer look at the constitution – Part 8

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I hope you had an enjoyable independence holiday. Thirty years is an important milestone. We are not the same as we were some thirty years ago. However, we still have much work to do as a people. Not only do we want economic development but we need to act in a responsible manner to others. We want to have a safer country for all our people.{{more}} There has been far too much criminal activity in this small country of ours. Progress does not have to come with crimes. Let us continue to build our country to make it a better place for our people and those who visit us from time to time.

Last week we looked at the system of reporting that is provided in the constitution. This is to make sure that elected representatives perform in their constituency. We know that working as a Minister in a ministry could consume their energy to the extent that they could neglect their constituency. This system should make them pay attention to their constituents.

The Judiciary

Chapter 27 provides for the Judiciary. There are not many added duties with respect to the Judges of the Supreme Court, but section 246(3) confirms their duties with respect to the fundamental rights under section 58; section 101 provides for them to determine question in relation to the election of a President; section 256 provides for determination of membership of the National Assembly; section 260 provides for them to act with respect to any contravention of the constitution and there is their usual duty of interpretation of the constitution.

The Magistracy

It is the Magistracy which would see a great departure from the past and the most significant feature is that magistrates will now have life tenure. According to Section 255(1), a person holding the office of Magistrate may be removed from office only for inability to exercise the functions of his office (whether arising from infirmity of body or mind or any other cause or for misbehavior.

Pursuant to section 255 (2), a Magistrate shall be removed from office by the President if the question of his removal from office has been referred to a tribunal appointed under subsection (3) of section 255 and the tribunal has recommended to the President that the magistrate ought to be removed for inability to exercise the functions of his office or for misbehavior. Section 254 provides for a magistrate to vacate his office at age 66 years or such age that is prescribed by Parliament.

In SVG only the judges have life tenure and this system is touted for its ability to maintain judicial independence.

There could be some benefits in transferring this to the magistracy, but before this is done there must be an overhaul of the system so that we get magistrates of the highest calibre. The magistracy has not always been attractive to local lawyers, especially because of the remuneration, with the effect that we have to make up by recruiting from outside. This means we may be attracting poor quality magistrates because no brilliant lawyer will leave his homeland for the remuneration that we offer. Our magistrates deal with more than 90 per cent of the cases that come before our courts and their decisions are final for many persons who cannot afford the cost of appeal.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com

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