As the world has become more interconnected, a plethora of opportunities to commit crimes and evade accountability have increased. Besides being transnational, crime has also moved from being physical to finding its place on the internet through the use of technology. As such, it becomes vital that criminal justice systems adapt to these changes and remain fit for purpose in order to maintain law and order within its jurisdiction.
Governments have acknowledged the importance of mutual legal assistance (MLA) in order to bring perpetrators to account and justice to victims of crime. To this end, multilateral, regional and bilateral treaties have been concluded between and among state parties. Two examples to cite in this regard is the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the SADC Protocol on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, among others. Legislation has also been put into place in order to give effect to MLA ideals and treaty obligations.
Against this background, the Judiciary of Seychelles hosted a symposium on 10 March 2022 which drew in on MLA within the criminal justice system. The purpose of the symposium was to highlight the relevant legislation and procedure which creates and implements the contours of the law relating to MLA. In doing so, it also brought forth an opportunity to share ideas on how to make the process more efficient.
Relevant stakeholders present for the discussions included Supreme Court Master and Judges, representatives from the Attorney General’s office, the Anti Corruption Commission, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and Human Rights Commission.
The session opened with an introduction by Chief Justice Rony Govinden, followed by a short welcome address via zoom by Mrs. Justice McGowan from the High Court of England and Wales. Master Natasha Burian made a presentation about the basics of Mutual Legal Assistance and its relevant legislation, followed by a presentation by the chairperson of the Anti Corruption Commission May de Silva on the importance of MLA. Nissa Thompson from the Attorney General’s office spoke about MLA legislation and its importance in the criminal justice system, and Sandra Michelle from Foreign Affairs explained how treaties between various nations can assist in improving MLA.
The event also served to celebrate International Women Judges’ Day; statistics show that 40% of Judges were women in 2017 which is 35% more than in 2008.
Seychelles has gone a long way in addressing the gender imbalance in the Judiciary. In the upper Judiciary of Seychelles, the Court of Appeal is composed of 75% women and the Supreme Court of 40% women. However, women are still underrepresented with only 20% in decision making roles in the lower courts.