Profile: Dr. Mathilda Twomey: Exemplary Leader of Judicial Practice

14 October 2020

The Supreme Court of Seychelles bids farewell to its Chief Justice Mathilda Twomey, who served from August 2015 to September 2020. In a mere five years she has taken on the highest case load of a Supreme Court Judge and restored judicial timeliness, efficiency, and transparency. While she’ll be missed as Chief Justice, Dr. Twomey will remain as Justice of the Court of Appeal.

 

The Chief Justice in numbers

The Chief Justice has completed 17% of all of the cases completed in the Supreme Court (Civil and Criminal) between August 2015 and September 2020.

Supreme Court Criminal Cases: 50 of 866 total cases

Supreme Court Civil Cases: 1163 of 6212 total cases

Court of Appeal Criminal Cases: 69

Court of Appeal Civil Cases: 76

Dr Mathilda Twomey is a Seychellois lawyer and academic. Born in Victoria, Mahe on 3 June 1963, she holds a degree in French law from the University of Paris-Sud, France; and also a Bachelors of Arts degree in English and French Law which she obtained from the University of Kent, Canterbury, U.K.

She was admitted as a Member of the Bar at Middle Temple, London and as an attorney-at-law in Seychelles in 1987. She holds a master's degree programme in Public Law from the National University of Ireland; and in 2015, she completed her Ph.D from the same institution.

In 1987, Twomey started her career as a legal practitioner by first serving as a barrister in the Ocean Gate Law Centre. She has also worked in the Attorney General’s Chambers and as an attorney-at-law in private chambers.

She was one of the selected members of the Constitutional Commission who were instrumental in drafting the Constitution of the Third Republic between 1992-1993. In 1996, she also worked as regional coordinator for Multiple Sclerosis Ireland, upon moving to Ireland in 1995.

On 13 April 2011, she became the first female judge in Seychelles after she was sworn in as a non-resident judge; and on 18 August 2015, she also became the first woman to be appointed Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Seychelles after she was sworn in at the State House, Victoria, succeeding Frederick Egonda-Ntende

Dr Twomey also wrote a book called “Legal Metissage in a Micro-Jurisdiction: The Mixing of Common Law and Civilian Law in Seychelles” which outlines the vigorous mixing of the laws of the common law and civil law traditions that took place after the Seychelles became a fully-fledged colony in 1903.

 

Chief Justice Twomey in quotes

2016

“Mediocrity, laziness, avarice and complacency are the enemies of access to justice.”

I believe that justice delayed is justice denied.”

 “The right to access information is a fundamental right contained in the Constitution, and so the absence of such legislation is an oversight which inhibits the access to justice of our citizens.”

“I want to see a judiciary that is independent, transparent, efficient and dignified. I want to work in a place where people are proud of the quality of the work that they do, and a place that promotes the ability of individuals to access timely justice.”

“I think that it is completely unreasonable for cases to run over many years, until the parties have passed away and their heirs are left trying to claim justice for injuries caused years before.”

“I want to create an environment in which they (laywers) are trained in the highest levels of professionalism and ethics, and can be international ambassadors of the Seychellois legal system.”

“We create stories to make sense of our trials and tribulations, our successes and our disappointments. But truth is not fiction and our courts are taxed purely with fact-finding. Trial by media, especially social media has no such constraint on its opinion forming.”

 “The role of justice is to prevent conflict. We are a micro country; we live cheek by jowl with each other. Promoting tolerance and respect especially in a polarised society should be your ultimate goals. The Judiciary will not be swayed, hijacked, threatened or disrespected by anyone - not by politicians in government, not by those in opposition, not by power lobbies and not by organisations or associations religious, social or otherwise.”

2017

“We have adopted a Constitution, which explicitly reminds us of the fact that we are descendants of different races who have learnt to live together. Furthermore, it acknowledges that the foundation for justice in our country is the recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.”

“For too long we have permitted an atmosphere of kankan and harmful gossip to disintegrate our internal coherency. Everyone is different, but each are equally deserving of having their dignity respected. As a legal profession, even as a country, we need to stop this habit of devouring our own.”

2018

“it is time to acknowledge that although we have faced solid criticism for our uncompromising and disciplined approach, it has borne fruit. We are a more confident judiciary, better able to deliver on our promises.”

“I have a hope that people will learn to look through empty rhetoric applied against a Judiciary which works tirelessly and cannot speak back. I have a hope that the widows, the dispossessed, the unfairly treated and even the faceless critics on Facebook – can be confident enough to invest their trust in the work carried out in our courthouses.”

2019

“We asked Seychelles to see whether the Judiciary is fit and able to do its job and we remain 100% convinced that it is. Our commitment to integrity, transparency and accountability is reflected in the little changes that we make as much as in the big ones. Our impressive statistics and track record suggests that we are firmly on track towards modernizing our system and truly becoming the fit-for-purpose institution that our Constitution anticipated.”

“We cannot be afraid to fulfil our duty. Taking the correct decision may threaten our comfort.”

“Often when litigants have weak legal arguments they attempt to beguile judges by appealing to their sense of “justice.” What is often ignored by the judge, who being tempted, ventures down this path is that there is no universal and objective standard of substantive justice outside the rule of law. Justice outside of the law is unknowable and subjective.”

2020

“We are all required to raise our heads about the parapet, to stick to our guns. It is courageous to find against a litigant that you might like or admire. It is courageous to file cases against the government or to represent a monster. It is courageous to write a decision that attracts public censure and it also courageous to disagree with, or even publicly support, your colleagues.”

“Courage needs to be a constant, especially for judges. It takes courage to wake up every day, and know that you will be tested, personally, professionally and intellectually. We are servants of an institution – not individuals.”

“Commitment is therefore essential. Commitment to the law; to our colleagues and ourselves. Courage is translated into reality through this commitment.”

Women’s Day 2020

“For me this is what feminism is – it is continuously being on the lookout for situations where we can stand alongside women to empower them.”

“We have a crisis. We have a population of 90000 people, for such a high number of persons to be affected, we need to recognise that there is a whole generation of people who have been abused.”

Mandela Day, August 2020

“There is something (else) that I find problematic about the blind imposition of mandatory sentences – which is the fact that it can result in the deprivation of a convicted person’s right to hope.”

“The prospect of release for good behavior, how an individual is treated with dignity throughout their criminal justice system experience, and for rehabilitation to be taken seriously can significantly impact the offender. One thing that is so important is that a prisoner is given the right to hope that their actions, and their behavior can in some way atone for their disruption to society.”

 

Contributions to the judicial system:

  • Dr Twomey served as Chair of the Civil Code Review Committee (CCRC), a commission set up under the patronage of the President of the Court of Appeal to revise the Civil Code.
  • Actively engaged with the Indian High Commission to secure the funding for the Magistrates Court Building.
  • Chair of the Child Law Reform Committee set to review laws protecting children against sexual abuse
  • Instilled the regular publishing and updating of the Seychelles Law Reports.
  • Amended rules for the conduct of Election Petitions, and introduced rules for matters brought under the Proceeds of Crime (Civil Confiscation) Act and increased the Court Fees and Costs. She has finalized new rules for Pupillage and the Bar Examination.
  • Introduced a four-year plan to take the Judiciary from 2016 to 2020, with the key goals of reducing backlog and the cases in the system, speeding up the efficiency within the Judiciary and ensuring that it is more accessible, accountable and fit for purpose.
  • Sat on the Sentence Review Tribunal with adopted sentencing guidelines for offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act and heard the cases brought to the Sentence Review Tribunal under the MODA 2016.
  • Sat on the committee of legal experts that drafted the Lilongwe Principles and Guidelines on the Recruitment of Judges adopted by the Southern African Chief Justice’s Forum.
  • Established Court Practice Directions to secure the attendance of attorneys at trials and for the case management of civil and criminal cases at Supreme Court and Magistrates’ Court levels.
  • Reintroduced legal training for Judges and Magistrates and worked with the Southern African Chief Justices Forum (SACJF) and Judicial Institute for Africa (JIFA) for Judges and Magistrates to secure judicial skills and leadership training, including training in specialist fields like Human Rights and Environmental Law.
  • Grew the office of the Chief Justice with the recruitment of highly skilled legal researchers, who are instrumental in producing research on Seychelles, foreign, and international law for the purpose of assisting individual judges with their cases and legal issues affecting the Judiciary.
  • Hiring a Public Relations Officer under the Office of the Chief Justice, and the Library and Archiving services.  
  • Actively restructured the administration of the Judiciary – introduced the Director of HR, Director of Legal Affairs in the Office of the Chief Justice, and the Director of Logistics and Operations.
  • Oversaw the handling of complaints against Judges and attorneys, the terms of pupillage and swearing in of all pupils, and officials.
  • Taught on the Bar Vocational Course, and examined Civil Code for the Bar Examination.
  • Actively supported Seylii (the online publication of judicial decisions) and the teaching of law at the University of Seychelles.
  • Oversaw the implementation of the Strategic plan, holding judicial officers, lawyers and court staff to account for failure to comply with established timelines and procedures.

 

WORK THROUGHOUT THE YEARS

1992 –1995       

Pardiwalla and Twomey, Premier Building, Victoria, Seychelles, Attorneys-at-law and Notary Public, Member of the Constitutional Commission charged with drafting the Third Constitution of Seychelles,

Conducted criminal and civil litigation in all courts and tribunals

Conducted conveyancing of property and drafted and executed leases and agreements

1989 –1992    

Senior State Counsel and Official Notary, Attorney General’s Chambers

Undertook the prosecution of serious criminal cases, defended the Seychelles Government in civil suits, represented the Seychelles Government at international conferences, trained and assisted state counsel, prosecutors and the police department in assembling evidence and undertook prosecutions in all courts and tribunals, conducted the conveyancing of state land and leases, drafted and advised on contracts at national and international level

1987 – 1989  

Barrister-at-Law and Attorney-at-Law, Ocean Gate Law Centre

Undertook criminal and civil litigation

Acted on behalf of the Seychelles Housing Development  

Corporation in Rent Tribunals

 

Improved Rate of Case Completion

The entire Judiciary saw the reduction from 685 backlogged cases pending in August 2015 to 295 cases on 23 September 2020. 

In 2019 alone, 146 backlogged cases were cleared and the average age of pending cases dropped across the board. The Supreme Court and Magistrates Courts have begun to consistently meet the expected timeframes for the hearing of cases and delivery of Judgments adopted during the tenure of Chief Justice Egonda-Ntende.

At the beginning of 2020, in the Supreme Court the average age of the cases on the Civil cause list is 389 days (just over a year), down from 499 at the beginning of 2019.

In the Criminal division it is 328 days (less a year) down from 427 the year before. In the Magistrates Court the average age has reduced, except for several specific cases which skew the statistics, and have been identified. In the absence of those cases, the average age of criminal cases is 344 in 2019, and the average age of civil cases is 485 days.

Chief Justice Twomey has shown a tremendous amount of both courage and commitment to the Judiciary over the past five years. Her personal integrity and willingness to actively engage with all aspects of the Judiciary’s work has raised the standard for other judicial officers and her successor will hope to capitalise on the gains made in order to continue the modernisation of the Judiciary.

AWARDS

Bencher, Middle Temple Society (8 July 2020)

Honorary Professor of Law, University of Seychelles (2017)

Alumni Award for Law, Public Policy and Government, National University of Ireland, Galway (2016)

Irish Research Council Scholar, Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship Scheme (2014-2016)

James Hardiman Scholar, Applied Social Sciences and Public Policy, National University of Ireland, Galway (2013-2016)      

British Council Scholar (1982- 1987)

 

PUBLICATIONS

Books

Legal Métissage: The Mixing of Common Law and Civil Law in Seychelles, Mathilda Twomey, Monologue (CLJP, Papeete, French Polynesia and Journal de Droit Comparé du Pacifique 2017)

Book chapters

•             ‘Through a glass darkly: Reflections on 25 years of Constitutional litigation in Seychelles’ Dr. Mathilda Twomey and Joelle Barnes in Jacques Colom, Stephanie Rohlfing-Dijoux and Götz Schulze (eds), The 50th Anniversary of Mauritius: Constitutional Development (Nomos, 2019)

•             ‘Island, Intersection, or In-Between? Legal Hybridity and Diffusion in the Seychellois Legal Tradition, c1715-1950’, Seán Patrick Donlan and Mathilda Twomey in Sean Patrick Donlan, Jane Mair (eds) Mixes, Movements, and Metaphors (Routledge 2019)

•             ‘Inside-Out/Outside-In: Education, Training, and the Legal Profession in Three Mixed/Micro Jurisdictions’ S.P Donlan D Marrani, M Twomey, and D Zammit, in C Morris and P Butler (eds), Small States in a Legal World (Springer 2016)

•             ‘Things fall apart? - The mixing of fate, free will and imposition in the laws of Seychelles’ in Sue Farran, Esin Örücü and Seán Patrick Donlan (eds), A Study of Mixed Legal Systems: Endangered, Entrenched or Blended (Ashgate 2014)

•             ‘The Republic of Seychelles: Introductory Note’ in Rüdiger Wolfrum, Rainer Grote, Erika de Wet (eds) Constitutions of the World (Oxford University Press 2013)

•             ‘The parts that make a whole? - the mixity of the laws of Seychelles’ in Vernon Valentin Palmer (ed), Mixed Legal Systems, East and West: Newest Trends and Developments (Ashgate, 2014)

•             ‘Legal Salmon: Comparative Law and its Role in Africa’ in Salvatore Mancuso, Charles M. Fombad (eds) Comparative Law in Africa - Methodologies and Concepts (Juta 2015)

•             ‘The Republic of Seychelles’ in Gerhard Robbers (ed) Encyclopedia of Law and Religion (Brill Online, 2016).

Journals

•             ‘Muddying the Waters of Maritime Piracy or Developing the Customary law of Piracy? Somali Piracy and Seychelles ‘‘(2014) 20 Comparative Law Journal of the Pacific 137

•             ‘Model Code or Mongrel Laws: The Strange Antecedents of the Seychelles Penal Code’ (2015) 2(2) Journal of Comparative Law 40