“Courage and Commitment” –  Speech by Chief Justice Mathilda Twomey on the Occasion of the Re-opening of the Courts

On the occasion of the re-opening of the Courts on 10 January 2020, Chief Justice Twomey urged judges and lawyers to practice courage and commitment in their work; these are the chosen themes for the judiciary for this year.

This will be her fifth and last speech as Chief Justice, as she announced that she will be stepping down from this position. “When I was asked to take up the position as Chief Justice I did it on condition that it would only be for a five year period and that we would get all of the institutional support we needed to make the changes,” she recalled.

“This year I am going to honour my commitment and step down from the position as Chief Justice, and concentrate my efforts as Justice of Appeal. I believe that change is important, it brings with it fresh impetus. Another Chief Justice might have different ideas for new reform and maybe make further improvements to our Judiciary.”

Looking back at the achievements and milestones of the Judiciary as her five year tenure draws to an end, she notes a significant reduction in the “unacceptable levels” of backlogged cases with 2017 being the year in the Courts cleared the highest number of cases.

 In the past two years, the Courts have also reduced the remaining backlogs by close to three-quarters from 400 backlogged pending cases in January 1, 2018 to 112 cases as of December 31, 2019.

“In 2019 alone, 146 backlogged cases were cleared and the average age of our pending cases has dropped across the board,” she clarified. “Across the Judiciary, 4239 cases were filed in 2019 and 4043 were completed. This excludes statistics from the Family Tribunal which had 1170 cases filed in the year, and 722 cases completed and which does not include cases that remain open for review.”

Special mention was made to the Family Tribunal members, “who hear harrowing details of family life and domestic disputes.” She thanked Magistrates Asba and Burian and Mrs. Aglae who sat as chairperson and vice-chairpersons over the past three years.

On the transitions of 2019, Chief Justice Twomey noted, “We bid farewell to Judge Nunkoo who returned to Mauritius, we laid to rest Justice Fekna, and were sad to see Justice Renaud retire.” She also noted that the President of the Court of Appeal Francis MacGregor will be retiring after 12 years at the helm of the apex court.

 Speaking of the year ahead, she said, “‘Courage and commitment’ reflects the transition from the institutional to the individual”, noting that it is the lawyers’ and judges’ duty need to “meet their obligations head on”.

 The Chief Justice said that this is particularly important “as 2020 is an election year and we have seen that the courtroom becomes an important place to resolve political disputes.”

 “Courage needs to be constant,” she explained, “We do not have the privilege of choosing when to do the right thing and when to stay quiet. There can be nothing more cowardly than judicial footwork to avoid taking a difficult decision.”

 This, she reasoned, makes commitment essential. “Courage is translated into reality through this commitment. Commitment to the law; to our colleagues and ourselves.”

 “Our personal commitment gives our group its strength. But it also gives us our individual strength”, she added, stating that this was why the Judiciary chose to have on the cover of the 2018/2019 report the faces of their staff members, to represent the strength of the collective that makes up the institution.

 Citing noteworthy examples of courage and commitment being practiced in the Supreme Court’s history, she recounted the bravery of Chief Justice O’Brien-Quinn who, during a particularly threatening time after the coup d’etat in 1977, as Acting Chief Justice, “continued to question breaches of human rights. In (President) Rene’s biography, it acknowledges that Rene was forced to release 20 detainees held without trial after ‘pressure from Acting Chief Justice Sauzier’”, she recounted.

 In closing, the Chief Justice challenged judges to hold each other accountable and have each other’s backs. To the attorneys, she stressed that they should seek more support in partnership or chambers so they can meet their deadlines. She added that 12 new lawyers have passed the Bar examination and can help assist in this endeavour.

Download the full speech here: Courage and commitment – Speech by Chief Justice Mathilda Twomey on the occasion of the re-opening of the Courts for 2020