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Unjust criticism of judge

Published: 
Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Last week I alluded to the public’s perception being a possible applicable test in determining the scores of the Chief Justice and the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) as well as a yardstick against which the confidence reposed by the public in the Judiciary could be measured. I raised certain allegations being touted in the public domain (but refrained from commenting further upon same) and stated that this was just the beginning.

Less than 48 hours thereafter, social media went up in uproar over the ruling of the Honourable Mr Justice F Seepersad and the subsequent reversal of his order by the Court of Appeal in the proceedings brought by Devant Maharaj against the JLSC. There were mixed reactions to the rulings in the instant case as well as the wider Judiciary and the CJ etc.

For starters, questions arose about Justice Seepersad sitting on both the property tax cases and the JLSC cases. Did the attorneys-at-law for Mr Maharaj engage in forum shopping? Apparently they initially filed their claim (against the JLSC) and Justice Robin Mohammed was assigned to this claim. A couple days after, they withdrew this said claim and re-filed a fresh claim which was then assigned to Justice Seepersad.

According to the attorneys-at-law, the re-filing of the claim had simply to do with the fact that the Minister of Finance and his cohorts had made a lot of nonsensical comments amongst other things and had extended the deadline for submitting documents purportedly related to assessing your property tax.

These were all matters which needed to be addressed in the ‘re-filed’ claim. The question as to whether you amend your original claim to include new matters or re-file an all encompassing claim is really a matter of discretion for the attorneys-at-law. The fact that one lawyer will amend does not mean that it is wrong if another chooses to re-file.

But this brings me to another point whether ‘forum shopping’ is unethical, against the Legal Profession Act, or somehow interferes with the administration of justice? Does such a practice occur in reality and if so, is it prohibited? If it does occur and is somehow at least undesirable, why hasn’t the legal profession and/or the judiciary done anything about it? As a lay person, I fail to make the link between the opportunity to stick with a judge who attorneys-at-law are satisfied with hearing their matter (forum shopping) and the said attorneys-at-law being in collusion with the judge who eventually adjudicates in their matter!

In the recent case brought before Justice Seepersad, the Law Association vehemently criticised commentary which somehow pointed to this and defended the honourable judge. I am not for one moment suggesting that Mr Maharaj’s attorneys-at-law were forum shopping nor am I saying that I am of the view that such practice is acceptable. I am simply raising these points for the public to consider.

Moving along, what confuses me though is the fact that attorneys-at-law representing Attorney General Al-Rawi and obviously acting on his instructions wrote Registrar Jade Rodriguez as to how the matter came before Seepersad J. Certainly, the Attorney General is familiar with how civil claims/court matters are assigned under a listing unit. Why the need for this action?

This undoubtedly fuelled some of the social media public frenzy which ensued concerning the competence and integrity of Justice Seepersad. On the other hand, the Attorney General is yet to explain how he was able to get up in Parliament on a Friday night and announce that there would be an appeal in the Court of Appeal on the following Monday morning when neither the claimant nor the Registrar knew anything of the sorts.

The Prime Minister’s record has been stuck on the judiciary, continuously repeating that he has built the Great Wall of China around it. Obviously that wall does not protect first instance judges and certainly not Justice Seepersad. The PM seems to believe that the more he protects this Great Wall that he can somehow rewrite history and the role played by Patrick Manning, John Jeremie and the PNM in hounding former Chief Justice Sat Sharma out of office.

He cannot ignore his own statements that former Attorney General Ramlogan was in collusion with Justice Boodoosingh following the esteemed judge’s ruling in the extradition matters involving Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson. Ironically, some years later, Prime Minister Rowley had no difficulty when Justice Boodoosingh awarded him damages in the sum of $475,000 for a libel claim which he had brought against an individual.

The continuing ordeal and the actions of this Government through the Prime Minister and the Attorney General is what can properly be termed ‘playing smart with foolishness’. It appears that when some high profile people are not happy with court rulings, they immediately embark upon a smear campaign of the judicial officer involved.

The Attorney General is the titular head of the bar. One would have expected a greater degree of responsibility to be shown by him in relation to the bench. There is a lot more to be said on matters relating to the judiciary and I will continue next week.