Yesterday the Supreme Court in a carefully worded order made a request of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) inquiring into the impeachment not to proceed with their inquiry until the Supreme Court made a determination on the reference made to it by the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court referred to the good relations that should exist between the two branches of the government and stated:
…..this Court whilst reiterating that there has to be mutual respect and understanding founded upon the rule of law between Parliament and the Judiciary for the smooth functioning of both the institutions, wishes to recommend to the members of the Select Committee of Parliament that it is prudent to defer the inquiry to be held against the Hon. the Chief Justice until this Court makes its determination on the question of law referred to by the Court of Appeal. The desirability and paramount importance of acceding to the suggestions made by this Court would be based on mutual respect and trust and as something essential for the safe guarding of the rule of law and the interest of all persons concerned and ensuring that justice is not only done but is manifestly and undoubtedly seen to be done.
The Constitution has entrusted the Supreme Court with the power to inquire into the constitutionality of laws and all actions of the government. That power of the Supreme Court is based on the paramount principle of the need to inquire into the legality of government actions. It is the duty of a government to act within the framework of law. It is the duty of the Supreme Court to inquire into and determine the legality of matters that are brought before it. The foundation of legitimate governance is the respect of each branch of the government to respect the functions of the other branches of the government. Where this mutual understanding and respect is lost what results is a state of chaos.
The law is the foundation of the state. Where the law is not respected by any branch of the government the resulting situation can be extremely disastrous to the whole of society and the very structure of the government could be shaken and shattered when that happens.
The issue is a very simple one of merely a few weeks delay until the Supreme Court has adequate time to make a determination on a matter of paramount importance to the nation. The PSC, if it wishes to expedite things could do so by cooperating with the Supreme Court expeditiously by filing its written submissions in reply to the papers filed by the applicants who resorted to the Court of Appeal for resolution of the dispute. There is nothing that the PSC could legitimately gain by proceeding while the Supreme Court is inquiring into the very legality of the Standing Orders under which the PSC is expected to function.
It is also an affront to law for the Chief Justice of the country to be not provided with adequate time for filing of the answers to the charges that have been made against her. Even a criminal that goes before court for a trial is entitled to adequate time for preparation of the defence. The Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides this right for adequate time for preparation of a defence.
What is taking place before the PSC is a constitutional function of the highest importance. In all countries which are founded on the rule of law the impeachment of a judge is made under stringent conditions and this is a safeguard for the independence of the judiciary. When an inquiry of that nature takes place there is a legitimate expectation not only by the affected person but by the entire nation that the affair is conducted with appropriate dignity, decorum and seriousness. The impression of indecent hurry will create doubt on the very process.
Therefore the PSC should again reconsider the issue and after sober reflection on the most courteous request made by the Supreme Court should respond to the request with equal courtesy and respect. In doing so they will not to create an impression of impropriety and ugliness which will have a disturbing affect of the minds of the people.