This article was written collaboratively by Sophie Piper, Sana Syed and Farheen Adam.
On Tuesday we visited the Institute of Judicial and Legal Studies and the Intermediate Court. We were generously hosted by Her Honour Justice Cheong of the Supreme Court and Mr Rajesh Ramllol, the Deputy Solicitor General.
We were given an initial briefing by the President of the Magistrates, Mrs Dabee, and by Magistrates Mrs Janoo-Jaunbocus and Mrs Dookhy-Rambarran, who we would later see in action in court.
The Mauritian legal system is a combination of the English and French systems, thus we expected to be fairly familiar with the proceedings. Although there are only three tiers of national courts: District, Intermediate and Supreme Court, we expected to see some differences in their court procedure. In the Mauritian Intermediate Court most commonly only one magistrate will sit. There can be more magistrates if the defence has applied for such, for example, a bench of two magistrates will sit for rape cases or even a full bench of three for high profile cases that are deemed to require it.
Despite similarities, there were two most notable contrasts to our procedure. The largest contrast was that when a case was called to be heard, it was only in relation to a specific part of the trial process, as we would understand it. The trials would be split into sections and the accused would attend court for the bail hearing, parts of the trial, or sentencing, all on different dates and in intervals, that can span over months or even years. Therefore a magistrate would hear snippets of multiple cases in one day. Additionally the magistrates seemed surprised to learn that in our system trials run to conclusion however long this takes. Secondly, the non-appearance of a witness or even the accused was not initially dealt with as seriously as it is in the UK. The combination of these procedural aspects are the main reasons that cases can take several years to conclude.
We were invited to observe proceedings in the Intermediate Court that appeared to resemble our courts in layout, and structure. The procedure was also largely similar, for example the court clerk started proceedings and called for rise upon the Magistrate’s entrance. She then stated all the cases listed for the day and enquirer as to their availability for those on remand. As a result of the continuously moving nature of the court we were able to see several glimpses into a diverse range of cases.
When we attended the court, we were fortunate enough to be able to observe the case hearings. Although French Creole is the most common language spoken between the legal teams, the cases were addressed in English. The Mauritian Police escorted us around the corridors of the court and seated us in the front rows of the court, behind the barristers. One of the cases we heard involved the stealing of a laptop from an individual, which was then being resold at a discounted price by the accused. Witnesses included two police officers, who read their official statements expressing their accounts in detail. Another of the cases involved the cultivation of cannabis plants by the accused. There was a heated verbal rally between the defence barrister and the police officer giving evidence in the dock. The cases were very interesting to watch and we were given an insight we would never have imagined in the English legal system.
Lunch with HH Justice Cheong
After strolling past the Supreme Court. We were treated to lunch at le Bonne Marmite by Justice Cheong. She is head of the Institute for Legal and Judicial Studies which provides training and maintains standards for the legal profession and judiciary. She was also the inaugural head of the Mediation Division of the Supreme Court. We were joining by the magistrates and by interns and visiting scholars from the IJLS.
Briefing from the Deputy Solicitor General
Moreover, we were given the opportunity to gain extra understanding regarding the Mauritian legal system. The Deputy Solicitor General, Mr Rajesh Ramllol gave us insight via a presentation on the history and the roles and functions of the Attorney General and many other members of the office. The DSG’s main role is to be a legal advisor and assist the Solicitor General.
Firstly, we were given an insight into the history and origin of the legal system. It is a very unique system which derives from two distinct traditions, French and English law. Following the British capture of the island in 1810, the Treaty of Capitulation agreed to the French language, customs and legal codes.
The role of the Attorney General is governed by s.69 of the Constitution which provides that only a barrister can attain this position. The Attorney General holds a ministerial like position as he is part of the cabinet and could possibly be elected.
The other roles that the DSG addressed is the role of the Chief Legal Secretary, which is the accounting officer and administrative of the Attorney General Office. He therefore must attend every parliamentary meeting in which the budget is being discussed. The Ministeré Public position was also discussed that only intervenes when the law states and when requested by court, including situations such as changing of name, adoption, nullity of marriage etc.
As law students, this was one of the best days of study tour. We were bowled over by the warmth of the reception we received and how generous with their time these very senior legal figures were.