Principled judges are extremely hard to come by these days. Although the expectation is that those who run the justice system, and are responsible for dealing out justice, will only be guided by the truth, that is unfortunately not always the case. One need not look any further than the ongoing miscarriage of justice in the Seychelles, where the country’s courts have been co-opted by the political ruling class and exploited for promoting political agendas.
Sometimes though, even in the most corrupt of justice systems, one can be positively surprised. In the case of Seychelles this was seen with former Chief Justice Mathilda Twomey, who decided to step down from her position in 2020 after only one five-year term. Although she committed to step down after one term before she took on the position, her passionate speech before departing office about judicial independence and the courage required to exercise true independence was an obvious reference to the reasons she didn’t feel she could continue serving in her position regardless. Discussing issues like lack of rule of law and the need to address “outdated, unreformed laws” were similarly instructive.
It would appear however that a similar situation is repeating itself today in the Seychelles justice system, with Attorney General Frank Ally, who has served in his position since 2017, deciding to step down recently. Although the reasoning being given is that this is due to an unfortunate illness being faced by his son who requires surgery, the question being asked by everyone is to what extent this is the actual reason he is stepping down. Of course family illness is a terrible thing and must be a priority. However how much did this actually play a role in encouraging the attorney general that he could no longer fulfil his position? Or perhaps was this a decision that was inspired by the way in which the justice system operates, and a decision that as a principal jurist, he no longer wants to be directly associated with a system so heavily influenced by an authoritarian government.
Interestingly, sources close to the matter have informed Seychelles Watch that it will be British barrister, Steven Powles KC, who will be assuming the position in the immediate term. Aside from the fact that it is an unprecedented choice to outsource one’s attorney general position to a foreigner from the private sector, the fact is that Powles has been prosecuting one of the most high-level cases the country has ever seen on behalf of the government. And while the position of attorney general also includes being responsible for overseeing cases being prosecuted on behalf of the government, additional responsibilities include representing the public’s interest and handling criminal appeals. How one might be able to, on the one hand, prosecute a high-level nationally covered case and on the other hand be entrusted with such serious oversight responsibilities, which are more likely than not to conflict with the case itself, remains unclear.
If one would like to understand why Powles, on a professional level, is unfits to fill the position, one need look no further then past defendants which he has represented. Although designated as an international criminal lawyer, his clients have been some of the worst criminals the international community has known. This has included Isak Musliu, accused of engaging in severe human rights abuses and tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes committed in Kosovo, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone accused of rape, sexual slavery as well as chopping villagers’ hands off, along with corrupt politicians the likes of which have included Italian playboy Silvio Berlusconi.
The reasons why such an individual is both not fit to serve as attorney general and is not impartial enough to do so are quite clear. The real question is why the government of President Wavel Ramkalawan does not see it the same way. Time will tell if the government will choose to reverse this quite absurd appointment, but for the time being it continues to be more and more apparent why principled jurists, such as Mathilda Twomey and Frank Ally, chose to put their involvement in the Seychellois justice system in their past.