Apart from the sensationalism, emotion and the general hue and cry generated by the unvarnished comments of the learned Justice of Appeal Stanley John
, with regards to the performance and functioning of magistrates, there seems to be a larger issue at stake here on the question of continuing legal education for both members of the Bench and Bar, even from the magisterial level all the way up to the Court of Appeal.
We have seen in the past that there have been scenarios where attorneys, magistrates and judges, including those of the Court of Appeal, got it wrong, and, in fact, it has been said that the only reason why the Privy Council itself is never wrong is because there is no higher court to say so.
However, even at the Privy Council, in the celebrated cases of The Wagon Mound and Re Polemis, two different panels of the Privy Council came to sharply conflicting decisions on two similar cases. So at the end of the day, one or the other panel of the Privy Council was wrong. So we in the law must always recognise and accept that we cannot think ourselves to be above criticism, once it is fair, respectful, measured and justified.
So the point is that, barring the manner of delivery and the caustic nature of the comments from the learned Justice of Appeal, his underlying sentiment would resonate with some members of the public who, for one reason, would have felt wronged by the legal and judicial system. We must remember that our legal systems and our laws are not perfect, and are always in need of updating, modifying and streamlining.
As a member of the Law Commission, I sometimes form the view that law reform in Trinidad and Tobago should be a full-time job, with us as full-time commissioners, but the fact is we all have busy practices and give of our time at the regular meetings of the commission subject to availability.
But continuing education might be something worth considering, not necessarily as entirely optional either, and as something linked to grades or degrees of seniority, competence or professionalism, which one can earn by the various courses of study, practice and advancement. It may actually be a better system than what obtains now with the granting of silk.
A systematic programme of continuing education for all members of the Bar and Bench may actually be a good way of avoiding all of this and allowing members to earn credits, titles, honours, awards and decorations in a manner that is open, transparent, free and fair to all concerned. So there would be tremendous incentive, that if one wants to advance one’s career and standing, one is free to pursue as many of these courses and credits as one pleases, and this would now be a system of earned accomplishments.
It may then make it easier for the selection of candidates for certain posts and positions, so that we have a clear system of proven meritocracy, where one can show one’s success at certain courses of continuing study as approved by the Law Association and even by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission.
Hopefully, with such a system, we will hear no more complaints in order to be elevated to the Court of Appeal. The Chief Justice has, and quite rightly so, sought to pour oil over troubled waters, and has taken the initiative to calm any ruffled feathers that may have been stirred by Justice of Appeal John’s broadside comments, and the chief is to be commended for this.
He has shown maturity, leadership and a level head in his approach to this matter, but it is also a point worth noting, that we may need to look at our systems for continuing education. The Law Association has, in the past, hosted seminars and sessions in a thrust for continuing education, and I particularly, recall them under the tenure of Karl Hudson Phillips, QC, but since then they do not seem to have been as regular or as well attended as they probably ought to be.
Current Law Association President, Martin Daly, has shown himself to be open and amenable to ideas and suggestions, and he may very well have plans in the works to get us back on track with some more seminars and sessions. If there is one thing you get to realise about the law, is that it is such a living, dynamic, exciting thing, that it is always an ongoing and never-ending process of learning the lessons of law.
Extracted From: Trinidad Guardian Newspaper