Monday, May 25, 2020

In the midst of all the madness the judiciary should retain sanity

In an age where there is not much left to trust in our politicians, when the public service is on its knees and executives are on the rampage as they help themselves to the till in their efforts to become instant millionaires, it is always reassuring to remember that perched high above all this madness at least one institution retains some unmistakable sanity.

That institution is the judiciary.

The judiciary should always be a bulwark against all sorts of madness that, from time to time, engulf societies.

And there is no shortage of madness in our society today.

In a democracy, the judiciary is a guarantor of solace for the weak. It is a ray of hope for the weak against the excesses of the powerful, including against a state that has lost all sense of compassion.

In a democracy, the judiciary is always the last bode of refuge for those who feel aggrieved and violated by power.

For many of us, we do the things we do because we have this unwavering belief that if we are unfairly treated on account of the things we do, the judiciary will always come to our rescue by invoking the laws in our favour.

The judiciary can only do such an onerous task if its credibility and integrity is irreproachable.
Judges, one of the world’s finest legal brains once said, are lawyers not sages.

While they make mistakes, they do so on the side of all that is right.

Which is all the more disheartening to see the judiciary subjected to the kind of acerbic language they have had to put up with in recent months.

Recently, the vultures have been flying too low.

The judiciary in Botswana is under attack.

There are murmurs that our judiciary is not as foul proof as some of us may have been led to believe.

A case is currently being built against the true worth of some of our judges.

While no unassailable evidence has been put forward, for an institution whose only stock in trade is integrity, such doubts are, in my opinion, damaging enough.

The threat of trust, credibility and integrity deficit engulfing our judiciary cannot be underestimated.

A growing number of people look at many of our judges, especially those appointed under the current administration, as political handmaidens of the executive.

In fact, the most uncharitable critics have gone full throttle not only to question the intellectual depths of some of these judges but also their personal integrity.

An impression is being fast created that in some instances we actually may be having foxes guarding the chickens.

That is most unfortunate and regrettable.

To use a phrase certainly familiar to all of the judges, the burden of proof is on their shoulders.
The only way out is for our judges to prove that they are men and women of impeccable honour.
In a court of public opinion, it is for the judiciary, not its accusers, to prove their case. That, unfortunately, is how the court of public opinion operates.

While in my view the criticism is in many ways most unfortunate and exaggerated, the fact of the matter is we should have seen it coming.

It has at its root the way judges are appointed. The influence of politics is too heavy to be discounted.

The situation is not helped by the appalling lack of transparency.

The Judicial Service Commission, nominally the appointing authority has a mammoth task to allay suspicions that, like many sectors of our society, our judiciary is studded with political activists masquerading as detached legal brains.

This calls for an open public debate on just how best we can have our lawyers (for they really are) ÔÇô appointed to the bench.

The way we appoint our judges should be enhanced to make it more foolproof.

Avoiding the public debate on this topic can no longer be a sufficient way to help sustain the façade of sanctity.

Experience and intellect are no doubt important, but more emphasis should also be placed on character of those aspiring to become judges. Openness and transparency will also go a long way.
Otherwise the critics of the judiciary will continue to have a field day against our judges.
The judiciary should be above doubt. In every democracy it is a moral pillar, an anchor on whose shoulder we all turn to resolve our differences.

Even when I really feel hard done, as when this newspaper was made to pay unprecedented amounts in libel charges, I always want to draw some solace from keeping the faith that the judiciary is, after all, the pinnacle of trustworthiness.

I always want to keep the faith that no matter how painful the judgment against me, being handed out by such an irreproachable institution of immense integrity, the verdict should be obeyed to the letter.

In a country where politics is increasingly falling under the control and influence of mafia like gangs, it should be the judiciary that leads the way in resolving our differences.

Which is why we should, at all cost, avoid using inflammable language against our judiciary.
We should interrogate their judgments but we should never lose faith in their fairness.
It is important that we continue believing that judges are in many ways a better set of people than ourselves.

That can only happen if the judges themselves play their part.
They must earn our trust and not expect it to inevitably come rolling their way.

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.