In her candid address, Dr Mathilda Twomey delivered a farewell speech which paints a detailed picture of Seychelles’ current social and political landscape. Through this analysis of her 5 years as Chief Justice of the Republic of Seychelles, she made five firm calls to action.
Speaking to the attendees of government officials and dignitaries, Judges and Justices, ambassadors, senior counsel, Members of the Bar Association, and all lawyers she stated,
“Today I am speaking to a room of dignitaries, of sisters and brothers of the bench, mentors and peers on the Bar and other persons related to the legal field. But I also want to speak to the people in the market, on the streets, in the tata buses, in the offices and in the boats. The everyday people living in our country. The courts exist for you. We in this room are parts of the mechanisms of state that were designed to serve you. But so often we forget this.”
These are the five calls to action, one for each year she served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Seychelles
1. A call for constitutionalism
Chief Justice Twomey highlighted the need for more “meaningful and practical” constitutionalism to the written Constitution.
Arguing that Seychelles is no longer a young democracy, but rather one approaching its 30s, she stated that “immaturity is often times reflected in the Constitution’s selective invocation to suppress progress, not advance it. Its application manipulated, and compliance often superficial. It is used to further self-interest, or is simply ignored if it threatens vested interests. Our Charter of Fundamental Rights, are not treated as rights, but rewards for good behavior or to win votes, and the Courts infrequently called to deliberate on rights violations.”
She made a strong call for advancement of human rights in Seychelles – particularly for marginalized groups such as people with mental health difficulties, disabled persons, children from broken homes, abused women, foreigners – especially unskilled labourers, and persons who are LGBTI.
“If we do not use the Constitution to confront racism, patriarchy, inequality, homophobia, xenophobia, corruption and the daily injustices so many face, we risk squandering the possibility of building the society we dreamed of 27 years ago,” she warned.
2. A call for accountability
Citing progressive laws that have been implemented, including the setting up of the Anti Corruption Commission, Human Rights Commission, and the Information Commission, Chief Justice Twomey noted, “Yet, ask a person on the street what is wrong in Seychelles and they will say that there is corruption and that administrative transparency is the exception and not the norm.”
“You see, as a society we demand harsh sentences for a person who steals a pair of shoes, or a drug addict who breaks into a house to get enough money for his next fix, but we turn a blind eye to suspicious and missing transactions amounting to millions of dollars, to notaries who permit forgeries, to judges who change transcripts, to public servants who take bribes and make policy-breaking miracles happen. We need to start to hold people to account – even when they are people who are well loved, or wealthy or powerful. White collar crime is as serious as the possession of drugs or theft of coconuts, or driving without a seatbelt. Fraud and embezzlement go to the very character of the individual, and where these individuals are persons in positions of trust, the lack of integrity threatens the fabric of our community. We should demand that leaders are people of untouchable integrity. The rich and powerful who facilitate crimes, and those who “merely” turn a blind eye to crimes, ought to be dealt with like any other citizen. We have a double standard. This accountability deficit threatens to delegitimize our institutions.”
She also addressed the personal risks of this position she’s held for half a decade, stressing that “we are not naïve to the personal and institutional risks, and face them ourselves – as individual judges and as an institution as a whole.” Chief Justice Twomey cited instances of defamation and misleading remarks made by politicians and members of the National Assembly, imploring for more transparency and follow up in investigating such matters.
3. A call for dismantling patriarchy
“Throughout my career and that of my female peers, my qualifications and ability have been a footnote to my gender. People say, “for a woman, she’s a good lawyer”, Chief Justice Twomey began.
She explained that as she stepped into a male-dominated field, she faced many challenges of sexism, including belittlement and condescension.
“Patriarchy and sexism are not limited to the legal profession. Gender based violence, and sexual abuse committed against women and children are at epidemic proportions. The abuse, violence and depravity committed against women and children is unacceptable. We need to stop blaming women – for being drunk, for dressing provocatively, for flirting. I am grateful to be on the Child Law Reform Committee, which I will continue to serve on, and we have made it a priority to review sexual offences.”
“And so I’m calling for the dismantling of patriarchy in all of its forms – from men and women – until we don’t even think twice about having a full bench of women judges, until antiquated, chauvinistic mentalities have been banished from our law reports, until people stop asking the Chief Justice about her gender.”
4. A call to vigilance
“Our vigilance is set up against all manner of attacks on the Judiciary,” Chief Justice Twomey explained. “Constitutional provisions need to be taken seriously. As Judges we depend on the Constitution to provide an environment that protects our independence. However, when principles of constitutionalism are tampered with, when judicial appointments are politicized, when budget cuts are unilaterally imposed without consultation, when we do not insulate our Courts and Judges from undue interference – we risk the life of the watch dog of the Constitution.”
Chief Justice Twomey noted the problematic practice of “active members of political parties recommending the appointment of and initiating disciplinary processes against Judges.”
“But not only in our Courts, we have active members of political parties recommending the appointment of and initiating disciplinary processes against also the Attorney General and the Ombudsman, and the Auditor General, and the Electoral Commission, and the Anti-Corruption Commission, and the Human Rights Commission and the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Committee and the Information Commission and the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation.
This is despite the constitutional demand for members of ‘proven… impartiality’. And to make matters worse, we have a current practice that only one name is given to the President for the purpose of appointment of Judges. This fundamentally undermines the check and balance process in the very constitutional design. I am horrified that we have gotten to this.”
She stressed that she is not ” in any way imputing the character of any individual appointee.” Rather, “a constitution is designed to prevent the abuse of power, and dilute the concentration of power. Constitutional provisions need to be taken seriously.”
The importance of the media in vigilance was also a key point in her speech. “We should no longer tolerate unfounded allegations drawn from poorly put together assumptions. I encourage the people – demand factfulness. Do not accept newspapers that print statements as fact without giving verifiable sources, without naming the authors of the articles or giving the other side of the story an opportunity to comment. These sorts of articles harm the country more than the individuals targeted in the articles. I cannot express to you how often the newspapers have been completely wrong and blatantly lied to the public over these past years. I call on my fellow judges to remain vigilant in their roles and to rise above the anonymous ramblings of the gutter press.”
5. A call to courage
Finally, Chief Justice Twomey concluded with a call for all to “stand securely in your own integrity and values”.
She called on all Judges, Magistrates, lawyers, Judiciary staff to “be courageous”.
“Turning a blind eye to petty corruption, tardy behavior, lack of transparency and accountability delegitimizes our institution. We need to stride towards achieving human rights and not dismantle what has been built. Our judges need to be brave and act justly all the time. How can we trust any judge if they are willing to look the other way when a lawyer steals client money, when a notary notarises a forged document, when a politician commits an election offence, when a fellow judge rushes through a political case without notice to opposing counsel. For the past five years, it has been my responsibility to decide whether or not to take action in each of these cases. I believe I can hold up my head and say that I did what was morally and legally required and in the public interest.
Do not give up. Do not shake your heads and accept the status quo. We need to rally ourselves, grasp the nettle and stand up for what is objectively better for everyone. For those that try, and fail, do not be disheartened. Treat every opportunity for change like it is the first.”
Dr. Mathilda Twomey’s full speech can be viewed here.