The Chief Justice Ronny Govinden addressed attendees of the soft reopening of courts on Monday 15 February, comprised of Justices, Judges, Magistrates, few court staff, and the media in Court Room 1, including all watching live on television and online.
Chief Justice Govinden stressed on the theme chosen for the year,
“Our cry is that peace, which is a concept of societal friendship and harmony and the absence of hostility and violence, can only be founded on justice in its holistic sense as enshrined in our Constitution.”
Below are the main points of Chief Justice Govinden’s speech:
The Chief Justice notes that symbols of the Republic such as the Seychelles flag on court premises during its daily activities and ceremonies is a vital way of cherishing the values of Constitution and “signifies that though we are separate and independent from the other arms of government we are also equal and form one in our conformity to the ideals of constitutionalism and it will act as a constant reminder to ourselves and court users that every decisions that we take and we take we them on behalf of the Republic and people of Seychelles and not on our own behalves.”
“The presence of symbols of the Republic cannot infringe our independence,” he noted. “It is for this reason that I have taken the decision that henceforth our eloquent national anthem will be played at the ceremony of the reopening of the Supreme Court. I have also taken steps of having our national flag displayed in all of our courtrooms and tribunal starting with court number 1. To me it is not a mere object of decoration but is also a symbol of values that we all aspire.”
For peace, cultivate justice
Talking about the peace for justice theme for the year, Chief Justice Govinden explained that peace is vital in these times of political transition and that it is a form of stability that should not be taken for granted.
“It is only a couple of months ago that we had a change of government. This peaceful change that we all take for granted can easily turn into conflict if we are to lack wisdom and understanding,” he explained.
He also spoke briefly about the role of the Truth, Reconciliation, and National Unity Commission – noting that the ongoing process of uncovering the truth of Seychelles’ history over the last 40 years by this commission is key in fostering peace through justice.
Stressing the need for peace during the current social and economic difficulties, he explained that “harmony is essential to economic growth and is the catalyst of all progress and developments in any country.”
Speaking to his colleagues, he said that peace is critical to have between judges, “for if we are not at peace between ourselves how can we do justice?”
He noted that the three arms of the State complying to the law, resorting to judicial recourse in order to settle controversies, and maintaining the independence of the Judiciary are what will help cultivate justice.
On the subject of corruption, Chief Justice Govinden affirmed that he would not tolerate instances of corruption, “irrespective of whether he or she is one of our own.”
“We are duty bound to uphold our oaths of office and we have an obligation to act with integrity. Corruptive practices should not exist in our mist or be tolerated by us, if there is any founded complaint of corruption I will without hesitation institute the disciplinary process irrespective of whether he or she is one of our own,” he stated.
He expressed the same sentiments towards members of the Executive and Legislature, reminding them that they are also equally held accountable by law. “I am conscious of the need for us to eradicate corruption in this country and it is the judiciary’s undertaking that we would deal with all such cases effectively and in accordance to law irrespective of the status of the accused person and whether he or she is a member of the Executive or the Legislature.”
Education on Judiciary’s role and media visibility
Speaking to the media, the Chief Justice explained that Judges cannot comment on their judgments or give their opinions on cases however, he encouraged media to continue giving objective coverage to cases of high public interest.
“The citizens of this country also needs to know the role of each arm of government and how it interacts with each other. We need to educate them in that regard. As far as we are concerned they need to know that the Judiciary is there to administer the law according to the Constitution and that there is a way that the law says we do this administration. The law says that we have to wait for a person to bring a case before us and having done so, that we have an obligation to hear both sides of the story with impartiality and then give a decision based on evidence,” he explained.
“It is not our role to give legal opinions to the press or members of the public on any matters that happens outside our courts, as sensational or as interested as they are. If we were to give our opinions on extra judicial matters, we would be abdicating our constitutional functions by entering into the political fray – starting trials by media and forfeiting our constitutional independence,” he clarified.
In the course of last year, the Judiciary began the process of reviewing its progress made under Vision 2020. The purpose of this review process was to reflect on the Pillars and objectives in Vision 2020 and to identify the Judiciary’s successes, and areas where the Judiciary perhaps did not achieve as much as it would have liked to and to understand why and come out with a Vision 2025. This new strategic plan will be made available early this year; it will consist of new strategic goals and objectives.
Regarding infrastructure, the Magistrates Court was completed last year and will now facilitate Courts and Tribunals which now operate from a single point.
A total of 3170 cases have been filed before the Supreme and Magistrates Court last year. We completed 3183 cases, as we continue to decrease the backlogged cases. There are still 2174 cases pending before the Supreme and Magistrates Court – both criminal and civil cases. The Employment Tribunal saw 223 cases brought forward since 2019, of which 184 were completed last year. In total 73 new cases were filed in 2020. This leaves us with 112 cases still pending.
Chief Justice Govinden stated that so far there have been 91 prosecutions for the offences of Breaching the Prohibition of Outdoor Movements and 30 offenders have been convicted. He urged everyone to abide by Public Health measures for wearing of masks in public places, and to avoid gatherings.
A total of 44 cases were heard via virtual hearing from the start of the pandemic until mid-December 2020 to ensure that court processes continue despite the outbreak of COVID-19 in the community, which saw the enforcement of restrictions on gatherings.
The Judiciary was able to maintain certain services for the public due to its Covid-19 Rapid Response Protocol.
Chief Justice Govinden noted that operations have to continue to run on a reduced basis, as the situation in the country has not improved yet. However he stated that the Judiciary is using technology to its advantage to ensure that operations continue to a certain capacity so that the public can have ready access to justice. This remains a priority for the Judiciary.
“This pandemic has taught us many lessons and we at the Judiciary, amongst other innovations, feel that we need to review the Judiciary’s digital infrastructure in order to accommodate remote hearings, filings, and payments. Investment in new technologies have the potential to facilitate increased access to the Courts, reduce costs, and improve efficiency, and COVID-19 highlighted untapped potential. The next strategic plan will see the roll out of more tech-based solutions.”
He called on all Judicial Officials and Legal Practitioners to take all circumstances in to consideration when taking on a case, and to understand that these are unprecedented times.
Chief Justice Govinden explained that currently the Judiciary has to balance between the right to justice and the right to health amidst this global pandemic.
“Even though we will be open for business and all courts will be sitting it would not be business as usual,” he explained. “There will be restrictions on the number of clients in the court rooms and possibly more adjournments in trials as we do not want the accumulation of witnesses at the court. We will do our best, as far as resources are available, to use new technologies to avoid face to face contacts. The aim is to keep our premises open, subject to strict public health requirements. This would be the case until further announcement.”
The reopening of the courts for 2021 was curtailed to meet recent COVID-19 demands of physical distancing restrictions on large gatherings.
Traditionally, the annual reopening of the courts in Seychelles is done with a church service, procession of judges and magistrates on Independence Avenue in central Victoria, and officers commanding the guard of honour with a brass band outside the courthouse.
The Chief Justice’s full speech can be accessed here.