PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Mar 4, CMC – Two High Court judges have distanced themselves from a statement released Sunday by the Judiciary of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (JRTT) calling for temperance in the public criticisms levelled against some judicial bodies in the twin island republic.
Justices Carol Gobin and Frank Seepersad in a joint statement said they had read the statement and “unreservedly disassociate ourselves from the contents of same.
“As judicial officers we have never felt that our office shields us from measured critique, commentary which are defamatory, or from being held to account for our actions both in and out of court,” they said.
In the statement on Sunday, the JRTT made reference to “unwarranted, crass and demeaning criticisms” of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC), the Chief Justice and the administration of Justice.
The statement, signed by acting Chief Justice Peter Jamadar, follows an incident on Friday in which a group of costumed individuals gathered on the front steps of the Hall of Justice here with placards criticizing the judiciary.
The statement pointed to a report in the Saturday Express newspaper under the headline “Ole Mas comes to the Hall of Justice”, noting also that the paper had introduced its report by stating “Masqueraders bearing placards with unprintable statements directed at Chief Justice Ivor Archie drew the attention of spectators outside the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain yesterday”.
The JRTT said that while “there is no doubt that both under the Constitution and at Common Law, there exists the right to freedom of thought and expression, the right to hold and express political views, and the entitlement to be robustly critical of the administration of justice, including judicial officers,” – there are boundaries.
“Boundaries that may be legitimately stretched, but that ought also not to be crossed. …,” the JRTT said, adding that while criticism of the Judiciary and of judicial officers is permissible “any such comment ought to be fair, reasonable and proportionate and ought to show appropriate respect for the administration of justice and judicial officers in the discharge of their duties.
“Unwarranted, crass and demeaning criticisms are not likely to be justifiable in either the social or the public interest, and may more likely undermine them both,” the statement said
But Gobin and Seepersad noted that respect for high office cannot be demanded but has to be earned and that “the office holder must conduct himself / herself in such a manner which signals that he/she respects and acknowledges the import of the office, treasures the privilege to serve and conscientiously strives to behave in a manner which emulates and adopts the highest standards of honesty and integrity.
“As judicial officers we have a heightened obligation to ensure that we conduct our professional and personal lives in a manner which is devoid of deviance, dysfunction and duplicity.”
The two judges said that citizens deserve to have “judges who are above reproach and judicial officers must be cognizant that it will be extremely difficult for members of the public to respect the judgments delivered, if they are unable to respect the individuals who delivered them.
“From what was noted via the print and social media, the depictions did not appear to be unfair, unreasonable and or disproportionate especially when regard is had to the issues which have been traversed before the courts, the report prepared by The Law Association, the pending matters still to be adjudicated upon and the preponderance of information in the public domain.
“The depictions also appeared to be reflective of the picong, double entendre and humour which is synonymous with Ole Mas.”
They said that the “right and ability to engage in social commentary is indicative of a healthy democracy and any attempt to subvert freedom of expression premised upon any misguided perception of untouchability, entitlement or privilege, has to be strongly condemned”.
Both judges have in the past publicly called on Chief Justice Archie to step down from office including his (Archie’s) decision to proceed on sabbatical leave for six months, in light of allegations of misconduct levelled against him.
A number of allegations have been made against the CJ, among them is the claim that he attempted to advise Supreme Court Judges to change their state-provided security in favour of a private security company that employs his close friend Dillian Johnson, as a consultant.
In March last year, Justice Seepersad said that to date the Chief Justice’s responses to allegations levelled against him have been at best superficial and noted that his concerns have not been eviscerated.
“The call late last year for a meeting was dismissed and there has been no internal engagement or attempt to address the concerns which have been repeatedly outlined. Consequently, I am now at a place, where, without reservation I urge the Chief Justice, to put the institution first and step down,” Seepersad added.