Posted by Richard Woodman, Partner
‘Wish you were here – Judgments by the sea (Privy Council in Mauritius)’ by Richard Woodman
Both the Sunday Telegraph and Private Eye have recently had a bit of fun at the expense of some of the UK’s most senior Judges. The subject of the journalists’ mockery was the latest in a series of overseas sittings by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
The Privy Council is the final Court of Appeal for a number of smaller Commonwealth jurisdictions including countries in the West Indies, as well as Mauritius. Historically, hearings for the Privy Council have taken place in Downing Street (although this venue has now moved to the Supreme Court in Parliament Square). The idea that final Appeal Hearings might take place locally first arose in connection with the Bahamas. Since then there have been two further sittings there and, now, two in Mauritius.
Royds has the great privilege of acting as Privy Council agents for the Government of Mauritius and in that capacity I have had the fortune to witness the sittings in September 2008 and April 2010 first hand. On both occasions the informal feedback was that the visit of the Law Lords was generally welcomed. The sittings were well attended by the public (on a number of occasions there being standing room only). The local legal profession has been particularly enthusiastic, clearly relishing the opportunity to witness the decision making process at first hand.
All this though clearly comes at a cost, and it will no doubt be a matter of personal opinion as to whether the cynicism of the journalists is justified. It has to be said that the Telegraph article hardly hits the heights of moats and duck houses and, indeed, fairly acknowledges that by far the largest part of the cost was picked up by the Mauritian Government. Some may just feel that it is inappropriate for public servants to reside at such apparent luxury whilst carrying out the job for which they are paid, regardless of who is picking up the tab.
On the other hand, is this simply petty jealousy which obscures the real value of an important initiative designed to show the people of the Bahamas and Mauritius that this is very much “their” court and not some remote post colonial hangover? Is it a small price to pay for the opportunity to have a final determination of your case (no matter that the Telegraph may think it trivial) decided by some of the finest legal minds in the world for the cost of a few plane tickets and hotel rooms?
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