Feature Article of Tuesday, 22 January 2013
Columnist: Rii, Jedd
A man mentioned to me, a land litigation issue connected to their siblings’ inheritance to their father’s estate. I enquired how the case had gone. His response was: ‘We spoke to our lawyer and he said;’ We have to go and see the judge.’
My response was: ‘What do you mean; going to see the judge. And who is “we”?’
The first bit of this is self explanatory, but it had transpired that the case had dragged on for many years. Not because of any complexities in the case or any discernible explanation that he could give. It was a case of siblings fighting to keep their inheritance from their extended family.
After travelling to court from a small farming village, to the district capital, on dates set for the hearing, one of the siblings [a working mother who had to take time off work ] had been sent back, each time with the announcement, that the case was either not listed, called or the judge simply did not turn up.
According to this man, his lawyer has stated that, he is equally “baffled” by the delay, but suggested that the siblings marshal some more money, to enable him to go and see the judge at his home and get the case moving [after years and numerous postponements ]. Now, I cannot be certain, if the money was for a cab fare or not, but the incredulity of the story was simply mind boggling.
I understand that litigation can and do get protracted but I just could not get my head round the issue of “going to see the judge“. The man explained that, if you want your case dealt with, you have to go and see the judge, otherwise your case will be postponed so many times and for so long until you give up the litigation.
My question to him was: Is there any way you can get your lawyer to send you copies of the case notes, particularly correspondence from the courts on reasons for these postponements?’ I realised however, the story was far bigger than a set case notes. I cannot be certain which aspects of this man’s story is true or based on ignorance, but it was clear that he was describing a system.
A system where parties can influence the judicial process, to frustrate weaker or poorer parties. A system where you lose a case, not because you are in the wrong but simply because the case was criminally influenced.
This situation is not unique to any particular country and happens in various forms all over the world. But the fact is, the weak in society do matter. Whether they are weak educationally, financially or socially, they have the experience of being poor, disregarded or forgotten and they can also be astute and productive members of society. [They usually are]
We can introspect; Why a judge at the helm of affairs in a law court, should allow this level of unfairness to prevail, oblivious to the knowledge that the peasant farmer who has made the journey to the court for the umpteenth time, is the same individual who has to juggle his time and still produce the fine foods that he gorges on, when he decides not to attend court ?
I travelled to a small town as a lad and with nothing to do, wandered to the government buildings where a court was in session. In the dock was a porter who was accused of theft; a charge which he strenuously denied.
The evidence was based on hearsay and the fact that he had no alibi [and counsel]. After repeated questioning by the prosecutor and repeated denials, a clearly irate and frustrated judge, suddenly rapped his gavel and said to the man: ‘If you do not admit, I will send you down for ten years.’
I have since witnessed some very bad and distressing things, but that kind justice, as dealt to the man on that day, is one of the worst. Faced with a ten year prospect for saying “no”, he changed his plea and was promptly sent down for three years.
Maybe I was too young at the time, to understand the entire spectacle that afternoon. But one thing which I understand is that judges have a duty to be fair and keep their courts in order. To do that they must be disciplined, impartial and honest. Going to see a judge out of court, in the middle of a trial or allowing unfair and illicit activities to interfere in the delivery of justice, is clearly a worst kind of justice.
Maybe, the problem is not with the judges and they are being unduly vilified, but one thing is clear; a lot of miscarriage happen in courts where a judge is corrupt or not disciplined. It can come from the lawyers, clerks or court staff and people who use the system. An entire court system, can be rendered useless, if judges allow it to become a microcosm of criminal enterprise. A court; any court and how it operates is therefore a direct reflection of the judge who is in charge.
The country is entering a new phase and integrity will be needed. Her Lord Chief Justice, Mrs Georgina Theodora Wood, should take note:
Sometime today, a hardworking farmer or worker will travel to court, somewhere in a remote town. He or she is not asking much: just for an honest judge to ensure that he or she gets past the corrupt clerks, lawyers and self-appointed middlemen and appear before him or her. It is the expectation that he or she would have a fair and expeditious dealing. The court might not be an environment with which he or she is familiar. His or her forte, is the hard and back breaking work which produces the ancillaries we all enjoy.
There are twisted people; people who would like to exploit him or her; they will try anything, because they know he or she is vulnerable. These people are corrupt and come in various guises. If they make the error of crossing your court, peddling their craft on the people who need to see you, be sure to make the experience so vivid to them, they will remember, that it was one of the most terrible mistakes of their life.
There is nothing more honourable than to say: ‘Today I am going to do the right thing!’
This article forms part of a series:
Realigning the National perspective.
Coming up: Taking the Law into Your Hands.