No-one could ever call Justice Mathilda Twomey of Seychelles a ‘usual’ kind of person. She has spent the last five years as the highly-successful Chief Justice of Seychelles and a member of the country’s apex Court of Appeal. But she had only accepted the post on condition that she would stand down as CJ at the end of five years. Now she has reached the end of that contract period, and is about to start a new phase in her life, one that could greatly benefit a wider community than just Seychelles.
True to her word, Justice Mathilda Twomey has stepped down as Chief Justice of Seychelles after five years. She accepted the post on condition that it would not be a permanent position. She further undertook that after relinquishing the CJ’s office she would continue serving Seychelles as a member of the country’s apex Court of Appeal.
This week a special function was held to mark the end of her five-year term, providing a chance for her to reflect on her time in office (see link below to her speech). Justice Twomey announced at the event that she had accepted a professorial post at the University of Ireland, and had also been appointed academic director of the Judicial Institute for Africa.
Speakers at the event included the senior magistrate, Benjamin Vipin, who spoke about how the CJ had helped ‘bring accountability’ to the judiciary.
Rights of children
According to the Seychelles News Agency he added that in his view she made significant contributions in three areas of law in particular: in civil law, on the question of the rights of children particularly in relation to sexual abuse, and her ‘reformative approach to drug-dependent, personal users under the Misuse of Drugs Act’.
He said that the CJ had been ‘an inspiration’. She was ‘fiercely dedicated’ to her work and had a no-nonsense approach. ‘Her work speaks for herself, a person with grit and determination, but after work she brought out her creole spirit, of laughter, dance and singing.’
Another of the speakers who paid tribute to her work and legacy as CJ was the court’s library and archive manager, Kevin Etienne-Cummings. He said that under her leadership the judiciary had started a modernising process and had set up a library system ‘where the public can at least see what legal resources are available online.’
Leadership and power
In her own comments she said that she had committed to leaving the position of CJ after five years ‘because I believe that long periods of service, particularly in positions of leadership and power, are a key way in which a public servant forgets their mandate and loses their vigour, and the role becomes less about the noble office, but the individual that holds it.’
One of her concerns was that the constitution and its human rights’ guarantees were not used properly. The constitution was sometimes ‘selectively invoked’ to ‘suppress progress, not advance it’. It was used for parties’ self-interest or simply ignored if it threatened vested interests. The rights in the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the constitution were treated as ‘rewards for good behaviour or to win votes’, and the courts were not often called on to consider rights’ violations.
‘If we do not use the constitution to confront racism, patriarchy, inequality, homophobia, xenophobia, corruption and the daily injustice so many face, we risk squandering the possibility of building the society we dreamed of 27 years ago’ when the constitution was introduced.
She also had some strong comments for the people of Seychelles about failure to eradicate corruption and the contrast between how corrupt wealthy people are treated and regarded, compared with poor criminals who commit petty crime, perhaps out of need.
‘We demand harsh sentences for a person who steals a pair of shoes, or a drug addict who breaks into a house to get enough money for his next fix, but we turn a blind eye to suspicious and missing transactions amounting to millions of dollars, to notaries who permit forgeries, to judges who change transcripts, to public servants who take bribes and make policy-breaking miracles happen. We need to hold people to account – even when they are well loved, or wealthy or powerful.
‘White collar crime is as serious as the possession of drugs or theft of coconuts, or driving without a seatbelt. We should demand that leaders are people of untouchable integrity. We have a double standard.’
- Justice Twomey will be joining Jifa as academic head, working with the rest of the core team on projects including the development of a postgraduate diploma in judicial studies, believed to be the first of its kind in Africa.