The Judiciary’s control of its budget and financial affairs should be accepted as a major plank of an independent Judiciary. The fact that the Government still holds onto its purse strings is intolerable. We therefore fully support the Chief Justice’s call for the Judiciary to be allowed to manage its own financial affairs within the standards of accountability.
This matter, along with several others raised by CJ Ivor Archie at Tuesday’s formal opening of the 2021/22 law term, are so obviously archaic that one is left to wonder how Trinidad and Tobago managed to drag itself into the 21st century—a point well made by the CJ’s reference to a commission established in 1892 to look into the functioning of the Registrar’s Office in Trinidad.
“Nothing has changed since then. Indeed, it has grown worse in the Judiciary in respect of our freedoms to manage our own affairs,” he said, adding that the Judiciary’s “ability to sustain and accelerate necessary transformation is hampered by the public sector’s hiring and financing arrangements that are notoriously slow and inefficient and... in some cases incompatible with true judicial independence”.
If this statement sounds familiar, it is because CJ Archie has said it before—indeed many times. In his address at the opening of the 2013/14 law term, he spoke out on the issue, saying it is “critical for the Judiciary to have adequate resources and the proper control and autonomy for managing them”. He complained about the lengthy and cumbersome procedures which “in the case of the Judiciary sometimes offend against the principle of judicial independence”.
Turning directly to then-Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, CJ Archie said: “Madam Prime Minister, I hope that as we move forward there can be a productive dialogue on the question of appropriate financial arrangements for the Judiciary that will be conducive both to greater efficiency and to the financial and administrative independence that is an internationally accepted component of the institutional independence of the Judiciary.”
Today, eight years later, the CJ is repeating himself, this time before the Rowley administration. Unless he is content to keep repeating himself, CJ Archie must demonstrate to members of the Judiciary that he has a strategy for winning its financial independence from the politicians.
There were some hopeful elements to the CJ’s address, such as the establishment of a Sexual Offences Court next year to fast-track cases of a sexual nature to ease some of the current burdens of court delays on victims, among other things, as well as the beefing-up of judge-alone trials, and the transition to a judicial system that no longer required preliminary enquiries.
Although each was a positive development in its own right, what was missing was how they fitted into the overall transformation of the judicial system that has been under way for decades.
Covid-19’s disruption of the unwieldy systems within the administration of justice has opened up room for creative responses to intractable problems. It is an opportunity for moving away from piecemeal projects to a new blueprint for transformational change that entrenches the independence of the Judiciary.
This is the CJ’s historic task.