Uniqueness of judges | Daily News

Uniqueness of judges

The other day we made the point in these spaces that the judges of the higher courts may take exception to their lot being treated on par with members of parliament, anent increasing the salaries of MPs to the level of judicial officers. This is, given that, over one third of our legislators were found to have not passed their GCE (O/L)s. Yesterday, our argument was endorsed by the Finance Ministry in that there could be no comparison drawn between judges and other officials of the public sector.

Issuing a statement, the ministry states that on January 9 this year a decision was taken by the Cabinet to treat judicial officers as a unique category when determining their salaries and other facilities. Ditto for the Attorney General's Department and Legal Draftsman's Department. It was also pointed out that the officers working in these three services (Judiciary, AG's Department and Legal Draftsman's Department) have wide open opportunities to earn in ample measure were they not tied down to these departments and work in their private capacities. Hence, in order to attract them and retain them in these departments the judicial officers were placed on a unique salary scale which cannot be claimed by other officials in the public sector. For this reason the Cabinet decision made on January 9 nullified the resolution of 2006 that brought MPs’ salaries on par with judges of the higher courts.

No right thinking person can find fault with this reasoning. Like doctors, who start at Medical College and go through internships over a long period of time, it takes a long process for a judge to arrive at where he/she is, beginning with Law College, acting as juniors in the chambers of leading lawyers, practicing in the lower courts, becoming magistrates and eventually graduating to the higher courts.

In contrast, a MP has quite an easy passage, not requiring any educational qualifications or other special aptitudes other than having the talent to ingratiate themselves to their party leaders, and, above all, the ability to display muscle power to bring the votes for their respective parties and the expertise to bellow the kind of rhetoric that will appeal to the baser instincts of the uneducated masses, particularly if they are of the ‘patriotic’ variety.

Judges are also unique in other ways. A judge has not only to suffer himself the laborious process of presiding over long drawn out cases but also has to write copious judgements which would put to test his integrity. An MP, on the other hand, is not burdened with such onerous responsibilities and does not have to worry about his/her integrity, going by the political somersaults effected with gay abandon by our people's representatives.

Members of the judiciary also come from vastly different backgrounds to that of some of our politicians. Many of them take up the profession following in the family tradition and thus are heirs to a long line of legal luminaries within the family. Hence, it is out of the question to treat them on par with chain snatchers, cattle thieves, rapists and murderers as some of our parliamentarians have come to be described today.

Whomsoever hit on the bright idea of treating MPs on par with judges is not clear, though the resolution was brought when Mahinda Rajapaksa was President. Perhaps, it may have had its genesis on the devaluing of the role of the judiciary during this time and the powers that be seeing no reason why a judge should be any different to a run of the mill MP. This was also the time that the Attorney General's Department was under the Executive and was made to comply with orders to terminate the cases of government MPs arraigned on rape charges.

It was also during this period that the country's first lady Chief Justice was hounded out of office after being humiliated. It was also the time that the sitting President of the Court of Appeal was overlooked for promotion to the Supreme Court for making a ruling holding the ouster of the lady CJ illegal.

Hence, this contempt for members of the judiciary could well have had a co-relation in treating them on par with members of parliament.

Flogging a dead horse

One would have thought that the matter of the Leader of the Opposition had been thrashed out and done with many moons ago. However, the same argument proffered in the past that the JO has more numbers than the TNA in parliament and thus is entitled to appoint the Leader of the Opposition from among its own is put forward once again. The JO claims that with the exit of the 16 SLFP MPs from the government it now has 70 MPs and continues to insist that one of their members be made Opposition Leader. How can the advent of 16 SLFP MPs into the JO fold change the status quo? It was a mere addition. Hence, the original ruling by the Speaker that the JO is part of the UPFA which is in government, still holds. 


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