In Kafka country
Someone high up must have read his Kafka. We are now living in Kafka time. This is Kafka country.
So the government desirous, it said, of ensuring transparency and justice for all, decided to change the way in which magistrates and judges were selected.
In the days of old, they were simply decided by the will of the prime minister, and that was it. Obviously, there were mistakes, sometimes glaring ones. So the change, as ordained by the new dispensation, was to create a committee to vet, it said, the applications of those who wanted to become magistrates and judges.
But then, predictably, the first two to pass that threshold were the former deputy leader of the party in government and a person who had been a candidate with the ruling party. Just to show that transparency and justice now reign.
The minister for justice said in Parliament he would not assume the responsibility of choosing judges and magistrates so this new
committee was a welcome safeguard. But then the result was just as if the persons had been chosen by himself.
In the past three years, this government has appointed 14 new members of the Bench, magistrates and judges. Of these it has been argued, though obviously one may disagree, that no less than 10 can be said to be linked, directly or indirectly, to the party in power. They include a former PL MP, a former PL candidate, a former PL councillor, a former International Secretary of the party, the daughter of the Speaker who was a former deputy leader of the party. There are others in the queue.
It is clear there has not been any minimal attempt to balance the appointments. This government has not even made the argument it needed to balance a heavily proPN bench.
Nor is it right to argue that those who have already been appointed and started working have delivered balanced judgements. This may indeed be true but as many experts in the field can tell, there is a huge disparity in sentencing. The issue of laws that are declared unconstitutional and yet remain on the statute books is still there. For all the talk about law reform we have had these past years, only small, relatively painless, steps have been taken. The government has not even tried to defend such an unbalanced choice. It has rammed them down our throats. It then expects us to bow down and accept such a biased decision without murmur.
And these people are appointed for life. The government that appointed them may go but they remain. And past experience has shown it is well-nigh impossible to get the two-thirds majority to unseat any of them who may not be doing what is expected of him or her.
It may be that these appointments have been motivated by thanksgiving for past work. That is not fair or right. But it may also be there are other reasons behind the choice. The future will tell us.