23 January 2010

Rumpole and The Way through the Woods

Great howls came from the clerk’s room at Number 3 Iniquity Court this morning.

Over steaming mugs of Red Rose and a few cream crackers, the b’ys were having a laugh at the goings on over at the Provincial Court in Gander.

It is, for those who haven’t been following such things, the story of a court which has been one judge short since December 2008.  That’s when one of the two judges flew up to the Supreme Court leaving his benchmate, one Judge Short – Bruce, by name – to handle the unending tide of misbehaviour from Suburbia in the Woods and its environs. 

The matter should have been settled with a few appointments to the Christmas Honours List but something appears to have gone off the rails.

A lawyer in Gander, one Juan O’Quinn, turned up in a CBC News story on Friday bemoaning the problems with getting cases heard in a timely way under the circumstances.  The CBC story is still not correct on the whole picture since it links Don Singleton to the goings on.  That, as local Rumpole followers know, is a horse of an entirely other colour.

To return to the matter at bar, the clerks were quick to point out that O’Quinn is a former law partner of the health minister and the chairman of the Memorial University board of regents.  His talking publicly is not to be taken lightly especially when it is to complain about stuff not being done by cabinet appointment:
"If you have a situation where you want to get access to your children and your spouse is not permitting that and you need to get in front of a court, if the court is busy then obviously that's problematic," said defence lawyer Juan O'Quinn.
The problems in Gander are an old old story.  A year ago, the town council raised the issue with the local member of the House of Assembly for the district Gander is in.  As the Beacon put it in a story on the ongoing court problems:
The Town of Gander received a letter dated Feb. 17, 2009, from government services minister Kevin O'Brien, MHA for Gander. In it, the minister said the interview process for the provincial court judge position was underway and the it would be filled in the not too distant future.
O’Brien’s logic on the delay is  - characteristically - incomprehensible:
Minister O'Brien said he is not surprised the matter has taken this long, given the amount of interest in the position and the prominence of the provincial court.
In any event, the CBC story confirms what your humble e-scribbler had heard early, namely that Provincial Court Chief Judge Mark Pike sent a list of nominees along to the justice minister last November.  Normally that would be plenty of time to select as many qualified appointees as might be needed and to let the chosen few celebrate their good fortune over the holidays.

Not this year, as it turned out.

The clerks offered two versions of why not.

In the first version, the Chief Judge had been heard talking about appointing his team and setting things on the course he had chosen for the court.   The list went from Pike to justice minister Felix Collins who dutifully passed it along to He who Must be Obeyed.

He was not amused at all by the Chief Judge’s confusion over who actually makes the appointments and sent the list back to be re-worked.

In the second version, the list went up with only the list of people recommended by the judicial council to fill the vacancies.  There were no other names of those interviewed, as used to be the custom, broken down into categories of highly recommended, recommended (meaning they met the requirements set out in the Act but lacked some qualities the council sought) and not recommended.

There was not even a list of the type demanded for the mess that became l’affair Singleton, namely putting everyone into one of two categories:  Recommended -  which jumbled together in one undifferentiated mess the highly qualified and experienced as well as those who met barely met the minimums set down in law - and Not Recommended, which was all those who didn’t even meet the minimum requirements.

The November list apparently left off some names of individuals reputedly known to the political powers to have applied.

The list was sent back to be re-worked.

The two versions are not incompatible, it should be noted, and regardless of the precise reasons the end result is the same:  the bench in Gander as well as three other spots remain short of judges.

The cabinet is working its way through the woods and may eventually find someone to sit in Suburbia alongside Judge Short.

But in the meantime,  Bruce is on his own.

If Juan applied, he can cancel plans to lay up his shingle.

And there should be no question in any one’s mind about who appoints judges in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Well, at least that’s what the clerks said as they drained the last drop of Carnation from the tin and got back to their work, mugs full of a fresh brew.