The meeting between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition was one of the more hopeful signs witnessed in our country for some time. It was a ‘mustard seed’ event which, if nurtured, has the potential to bring forth great things and transform relationships for the good of the national community. That the meeting was, reportedly, cordial and constructive was also good.
What was not good was the disagreement on how to proceed with the 53 part-heard matters left behind by the former Chief Magistrate and which, because there are multiple accused in some matters, are said to involve almost 100 persons. While most of the debate on the actions and omissions of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission has centred on the roles of the Chief Justice and the former Chief Magistrate, the result of the matter has been that a large number of persons have been seriously prejudiced by the outcome of the conflict which arose between the JLSC and the former Chief Magistrate.
Arguably, these accused have already been prejudiced by a criminal justice system that has left some of them on remand for many years in conditions which are overcrowded and inhumane. These accused now face the prospect of their matters having to be restarted afresh and, therefore, face continued prejudice and suffering without determination of their guilt or innocence.
It is the responsibility of those who are in positions of leadership to discern what is truly important in a given situation and focus their resources, time and talent on resolving those problems. The priority in this situation is the prejudice visited upon the accused in those part-heard matters.
Who is telling the truth between the JLSC and the Chief Magistrate or whether the JLSC conducted due diligence or was misled cannot at this juncture be the priority problem and should not be the main preoccupations of our leaders in the face of the suffering of the accused in the 53 part-heard matters.
Here is a situation where we have to allow the weeds, as noxious and disturbing as they might be, to grow with the corn until harvest time. The accused in the 53 part-heard matters are the corn here. If legislation is not the solution because retrospectivity would be unconstitutional, we then have to move beyond mere law to doing justice.
We may have to look at each case and craft solutions based on what is just and reasonable. Persons on remand whose likely sentences if they were in fact guilty would approximate their time already spent in prison should be released by the DPP immediately stopping prosecution. Others might have their matters proceed immediately to trial in the High Court. Those that were only recently started by the former Chief Magistrate could be restarted de novo if they would not be prejudiced.
All responsible parties, the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, the DPP and the Acting Chief Magistrate, should give the resolution of these matters their highest priority. There will be no costless solutions in any of these matters, but we must do what is just.
As a society we should not allow doing justice to these accused to be caught up in either the exoneration or condemnation of the former Chief Magistrate, or the determination of the limits of the responsibility or the extent of the irresponsibility of the JLSC. It would be even worse if the cries for the impeachment of the Chief Justice, whereby the role of the Chief Justice as jurist is confused with his administrative role as chairman of the JLSC, become yet another occasion for the expression of partisan politics. Let us first harvest the corn, then destroy the weeds.