Today 15 January, the Judicial Committee of the Queen’s Privy Council in Britain will decide a case that, in turn, decides Mauritius’ political future. Everyone is talking about whether or not Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth will be found guilty, and if found guilty, sent to prison or not. There will be live broadcasts on private radio. Effects of the judgment and, if guilty, the sentence, will be wide-reaching. Already the case has prevented proper negotiations for alliances for the general elections that have to be set in motion by the end of this year, for the simple reason that at least one of the chief negotiatiors is in judicial limbo.
But there is something even more important to put on record:
50 years after Mauritian Independence, there is the absurd situation whereby judges (all five are “Lords”) appointed by the ruling class of the ex-colonial power will be determining a criminal appeal case against the Prime Minister of an independent country.
LALIT has long called for a Court of Appeals to be organized by Commonwealth countries, so as to avoid this kind of colonial absurdity. Already the Law Lords have been called upon in recent years to statute on internal Mauritian electoral laws. We re-iterate that the Mauritian State must take an initiative to put an end to this dependence on a Court over which it shares no democratic control.
Today, the Queen of England’s Law Lords will begin deciding on a case of conflict-of-interest against the Prime Minister of Mauritius. The case concerns the purchase by the Mauritian state of the Medpoint clinic. While having withdrawn from a Cabinet decision on this because his sister had a 25% share in the Clinic, Pravind Jugnauth nevertheless signed to transfer the funds, and did so speedily. The lower Courts found him guilty, and sentenced him to a year’s prison. The Supreme Court on appeal found him not guilty. Then the DPP appealed to the Privy Council. Despite the rest of the executive doing everything imaginable to stop the DPP going ahead, including trying to arrest him, the DPP did go ahead. And this would have been a sign of robust democracy if only the Court of final appeal were not a completely undemocratic colonial vestige.
To make the situation even more ridiculous and even dangerous when one independent state has to bow down to the judiciary of another state, there is simultaneously a geo-political conflict between the two states, Mauritius and Britain. The British State is hopping mad with the Mauritian state. Mauritius humiliated Britain last year by persisting, despite all threats and pressures, and going ahead and getting a 94-15 majority at the UN General Assembly against Britain. The vote was on whether to go to the UN’s International Court of Justice at the Hague for an “opinion” on the avowedly disgraceful behavior of the British State in the run-up to Mauritius independence. Britain in fact stole a whole archipelago, Chagos, and even forcibly removed a whole population from this part of Mauritius, and then rented part of the stolen goods, Diego Garcia, to the receiver of stolen goods, the USA, for its military base, now notorious for having been used in an illegal war against Iraq and for torturing prisoners during “rendition”.
This means that, if Pravind Jugnauth is found guilty, there could be suspicion that the British State was counter-attacking for the Mauritian attack against it. If he is found not-guilty, there could be suspicion of some kind of a deal between the two States. Anything in-between has the same structural problem. Britain and Mauritius are in a grave conflict, as states. Now, Mauritius’ Prime Minister who is in conflict with the British State will have his fate decided by the same British State that he is in conflict with.
The British State, while deciding on Jugnauth’s conflict-of-interest, finds, itself, in a conflict-of-interest situation: the Law Lords should be recusing themselves, just as Jugnauth should have.
(Uploaded on 15 January, 2019 before the Privy Council Hearing starts in two or three hours' time.
Time uploaded: 11.40 am, Mauritian Time- 7.40am GMT Time)