Judges and other officers of the court outside the Cathedral of the Assumption after the church service Monday morning. (iWN photo)

A Christian cleric has urged judicial officers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) to not accept bribes, saying that doing so “opens the door for corruption in the society, and corruption undermines justice and the implementation of law”.

Bishop Leopold Friday cited Deuteronomy 16:18-20 in support of his exhortation at the service at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Kingstown, on Monday, to mark the opening of the 2020 law year.

Friday said:

“This text from Deuteronomy warns against bribery, for bribery opens the door for corruption in the society, and corruption undermines justice and the implementation of law,” Friday told the gathering of judges, lawyers and other court officials.

“It undermines the rule of law, promotes public distrust about the integrity of government, and weakens essential capacities for sound economic, social and political development. On the other hand, strengthening judicial integrity and related capacities to combat corruption can have enormous benefits.”

The bible verses say that judges must render just decisions and must not distort justice.

“… you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you,” the Old Testament passage further stated.

Friday said research shows that corruption in the Justice System can be identified basically in two ways:  political interference in the judicial process by the legislative or executive branch, and bribery

He said that bribery and political influence in the justice system erode social cohesion and disrupts and hinders community growth and development and reduces the ability of the justice system to fight against corruption and to serve as a body which inspires and promotes freedom, self-confidence, integrity, independence and accountability.

“Corruption in the judiciary includes any inappropriate influence on the impartiality of judicial proceedings and judgements and can extend to the bribing of judges for favourable decisions, or no decision at all,” the bishop reasons.

He said judicial corruption includes the misuse of judicial funds and power.

“It also refers to unfair case allocation and in other pre-trial procedures, such as when bribed court clerks ‘lose’ files and evidence. It can influence any trial or court settlement, and the enforcement — or not — of court decisions and sentences.

“Court officials may seek bribes for services; lawyers may charge additional ‘fees’ to expedite or delay cases, or to direct clients to judges known to take bribes. There is some concern that poor salaries, insecure working conditions, unfair promotion and transfer processes and a lack of continuous training, can make judges and other court personnel vulnerable or susceptible to bribery,” Friday said.

He said that the scripture’s urging that “justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” emphasizes the need for all people of SVG, particularly those in the justice system, legislature and executive branch “to accept and submit to a transcendent norm for this will inspire and promote a greater commitment to justice in a society that stands above all participants in the socio-political process”.

To enhance this, Friday suggested that everyone accepts, as stated in the Constitution, that Vincentians, as a nation, acknowledge the supremacy of God.

“This is to say that we are not an atheistic society and that our values, principles and laws are based on transcendent norms,” he said.

“Those in the justice system are encouraged to develop and display a positive self-image, built on belief in the values of individual honesty and professional ethics, for this is fundamental to combating corruption.”

He said that Singapore, which has made important strides in judicial reform and reducing public sector corruption, has adopted a set of ten “commandments” to frame its approach to judicial integrity.

They are:

  1. Transparency in the selection of judges, based on merit, competency and experience.
  2. Adequate remuneration for judges and court staff.
  3. An independent yet accountable judiciary, with the courts free of external influence in judicial decision-making, but subject to independent audit of the use of public resources.
  4. A coherent system of case management that eliminates backlogs, shortens waiting time, and diminishes vulnerability to mismanagement.
  5. Performance standards for the judiciary and the judges, with time-based, volume-based and disposal-based indicators.
  6. Consistent and objective criteria in the administration of justice, including in fines, fees and sentences.
  7. Clear ethical markers and guidelines for judges.
  8. A common vision for the judiciary and leading by example by the Chief Justice to assure unity of vision and purpose.
  9. Full transparency in the justice process at all times, including public hearings, documented decisions open to public scrutiny, and right of appeal to the higher courts.
  10. Learn from lessons of forward-looking institutions through strategic partnerships with progressive judiciaries and law-related organisations.

At the special sitting of the High Court to mark the beginning of the law year, High Court judge Justice Cottle noted the bishop’s sermon.

The judge said:

“And if we take nothing else away from this opening this morning, we could do a lot worse than remember Bishop Friday reminding us that justice is something which is meant for the benefit of all of the people.

“So the judiciary is not appointed or controlled by the executive. The judges are expected to serve all the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

Justice Cottle said that judges are expected to serve all the people fairly.

“And that is something which, on behalf of my sisters and myself, I recommit again … to be impartial. We will thrive always to do nothing to distort justice, and, certainly, we will be accepting no bribes,” he said, referring to the other jurists, all women, at the bench.

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9 Comments

  1. It is curious that Justice Cottle had remarks afterwards. I wonder why? Especially that part saying that judges are not controlled by the executive. Too bad he did not specifically state that judges should not base thier decisions on Political Affiliation. That would have made me even more curious.

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  2. It is good that the Bishop mentioned Singapore, which is the most improved country of the century. Going from a corrupt, poor trash place to become of the wealthiest, best-run nations on earth. I wonder why both the NDP and ULP hate using Singapore as an example. Singapore was far behind SVG in the 1960s and they passed us in everything like we were standing still.
    I remember talking with some ULP government employee a few years ago and he said SVG does things like Singapore. In the course of the conversation I was easily able to show him that in all important procedure we do things the opposite of Singapore and that is why we are far, far behind them.

    I wonder why we do not want to use Singapore as an example and instead SVG has all the worst of Capitalism and all the worst of Socialism and the worst of all other Economic and other systems Systems. Then we wonder why we have so many problems.

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  3. We should maybe add to this bribery of the electorate. Should former lawyers be allowed to bribe the people with building materials, houses, government positions, before an election? That seems to be in-your-face corruption right there! What about other politicians offering Poor Relief for sex?

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  4. When Jomo blocked the motion of no confidence in parliament didn’t a judge have to review and test this decision before it is went to the floor? It is nice to have high ideals but you have to have the balls the stay the path. When it comes down to it they can’t resist the large sums of illicit cash floating around. And, the sexuality of power. Help us all.

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  5. Vincy in New York says:

    Bribery is NOT the main issue with the justice system. It is the appearance of justice – justice must be seen to be done.

    When one person commits a crime and does no time whilst anothers are sent to jail for similar offenses, it undermines confidence in the courts and justice system.

    If people were to feel and think that there are equal rights and justice, there is nothing to worry about.

    Bribery!? The client with the money will occasionally circumvent the system. The yardstick to use for competency in the courts and justice system is equal rights and justice for the poor….uh everyone.

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  6. I believe the Bishop knows a lot about this matter why would he otherwise make such a controversial speech to the Judges. Why did the Judges stay silent if it was such an insult, which obviously it wasn’t. The accepted the Bishops words without any denial.

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  7. Bishop Friday may forget to close his sermon by reminding them what the psalmist says. That death is the destiny of All man and we the living should take note.

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  8. They’re admitting that bribery takes place among Judges and Magistrates. So watch it. The other list is a smoke screen. You can’t trust hungry people.

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  9. The Catholic Church building is one of the Monuments in Kingstown and is worth preserving. Look at how these high placed honest gentlemen and Ladies are allowing it to crumble to dust. No. They want the pope to make a move first. Some People are so busy looking out for themselves that they would try anything to distract you.

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