Attacks against the Judiciary


While not so common in Westminster, it has been known in established democracies that a disgruntled politician, generally one who is or has landed in Opposition, may sound off against a particular magistrate or high court judgment with which he or she is unhappy for one reason or another. Of course, as far as we understand such matters, the natural recourse would be to follow the set legal procedures for appeal to a higher court, even if the individual may feel hard done by. It is legitimate in that case to express in civilised tones his surprise, disappointment or disagreement with the judgment, more so as he would know quite well that the targeted officer cannot and will not take the trouble to answer allegations of whatever nature from the body politic.

In the USA, ex-President Trump is being caught up, after his period of legal immunity as head of State, in complex legal cases that are being wheeled out in various state jurisdictions and which will most probably wind their way ultimately to the US Supreme Court. This has not prevented the ex-President from playing the victim card and his party faithful making a stream of raucous innuendos about the judicial machinery being “weaponised” against him. 

Of course, the US judicial and political systems are rather unique, but many of us might have taken note these days of the condemnation of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi by a Surat court for criminal defamation of the Modi surname. The sentence of two years in jail will be probably stayed while the Gandhi scion appeals the judgment, but it has created quite a ruckus with a variety of Indian Opposition leaders and Congress party loyalists attacking either the judgment or the Modi government, being assumed that the latter has a hand in every misfortune or inquiry that befalls Rahul Gandhi.

In our more limited democratic experience and space, we too have had cases since 2015 where the leader of the main Opposition party, Navin Ramgoolam, has had to bear the brunt of a dozen judiciary proceedings brought against him. That all of them, except one under appeal to the Privy Council, were struck out or dismissed in courts, he still had to stoically face up to the harassment from the MSM and various instruments at its disposal without any unbecoming or reckless comment as far as we recall on any particular magistrate, judge, the CP or the DPP.

What is highly unusual since the third week of February is the appearance of concerted attacks against the DPP or the judiciary, by the CP, the PM himself and his retinue on the basis of judgments they obviously disagree with and for which there are possible avenues of appeal that they could avail themselves of. The basis of their discomfiture is the release on bail, under unprecedentedly strict conditions, of Opposition figure Bruneau Laurette, whose drug-related offence is still under an investigation and that may take several months if not years to complete — a deprivation of his liberties, which human rights advocates might consider unjustified. The CP is appealing that ruling and the matter should have been left to the court and judicial proceedings without the reckless hollering we have been forced to witness. Not from Opposition but from an irate government and therein lies the novelty of the situation that has alarmed the Mauritius Bar Council at those attacks against its members and the judiciary.

The terms of the Bar Council’s resolution in its communique issued on 23rd March will undoubtedly receive wider attention and unfortunately do little for our country’s reputation in overseas investor or institutional circles. We quote the unusually damning first paragraph:

“It (the Bar Council) strongly and unreservedly condemns the outrageous, gratuitous and unsubstantiated attacks which the legal profession and some of the institutions within our justice system have been subjected to as of late…”. With the objective to restore serenity amidst the prevailing tensions, the Council has written officially to the President of the Republic and the Chief Justice who both have responsibilities “in the exercise of their Constitutional functions”.

While criticism of a judgment is legitimate, there can be no excuse for insulting remarks against both the magistrate and the holder of the constitutionally protected DPP post. The earlier serenity returns to the affairs of the State, the better for our democratic institutions and for the country.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 24 March 2023

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