Monday, September 21, 2020

Signs of decadence on the judiciary do not bode well for our democracy

The Judiciary is headed for the dock, and its moment of truth is fast approaching.

Not too long ago, the Chairman of Law Society of Botswana made a serious statement against the integrity of the judiciary.

He said some Judges are receiving bribes ÔÇô pretty much.

That is a serious indictment on the integrity of the judiciary.

We had hoped that by now the Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission, or the Chief Justice would have made a public statement about such serious allegation.

The Chairman of the Law Society is effectively the leader of the lawyers’ fraternity, who are themselves officers of the court.

He holds a very powerful position of responsibility. And as such we do not expect him to make such a glaring statement, especially in public without proof.

Because the Chief Justice has not as yet said anything in reply to this damning statement made in public, we have no option but to suspect he is aware of the veracity of the statement made by Chairman of the Law Society.

Botswana’s judiciary has had a very formidable track record.

We are however worried that it is now headed for turbulent times.

And it is a tragedy for the Chief Justice and Judicial service Commission to fail to act to protect and defend the judiciary, but instead opt to allow it to roll under the shadows of a totally avoidable controversy.

Even when other institutions of democracy collapsed, the judiciary retained a semblance of much needed public faith.

During that time, Batswana and the business community continued to believe that the judiciary was one of the last bulwarks of excesses by those wielding political power.

It is important that litigants continue to look at the judiciary as the final arbiter.

When two years ago a number of High Court judges were suspended because they had been found by an audit to have used money not due to them, some of us thought that was an aberration.

The more charitable among us felt that the penalty exceeded the offence.

There was also a hint that some of the judges had been collateral of what had been a possible witch-hunt against one of therm.

We gave them a benefit of doubt until the end when a settlement was reached with government.

But an indelible blight on the judiciary was made when some of the judges wrote profuse apologies to the then president, with one of them going as far as to say he owed his very being to the president.

We had always known what a vindictive soul the then president was. But for a High Court judge to swear allegiance to the president and not the Constitution was for us demeaning and a total lack of self respect.

But when a High Court judge was recently arraigned and charged with criminal misdemeanours then it felt like ultimate loss of innocence.

This was not some drunken driving charge.

According to the State it was a charge of high corruption.

Like every accused, the Judge in question is innocent until proven guilty.

But then his charging, as much as it goes a long way to prove that nobody is above the law also confirms that judges are just human beings in whose hands we place too much of our fate that they hardly deserve.

As a celebrated South African Constitutional Court judge once said, judges are not sages. They are lawyers.

The judges have opened itself to attacks and ridicule.

They have nobody to blame.

All pretence of some vague sanctity they used to enjoy is gone.

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