Wednesday 28 October, 2020

'Tasteless': CJ Archie schools High Court judge on protocol, respect

Chief Justice Ivor Archie.

Chief Justice Ivor Archie.

Chief Justice Ivor Archie has chastised High Court Judge Frank Seepersad for raising concerns over in-person hearings which have been implemented amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seepersad wrote to Archie noting that he had serious concerns with the removal of choice as it relates to conducting a safe in-person hearing.

In a letter dated Monday, September 21, Archie sought to remind Seepersad of his position in the judicial system. 

The letter is as follows:

“My dear Frank,

Yet again you appear to believe that your independence extends to administration.  

It does not. When and if you hold the position of Chief Justice you will have administrative responsibility.  At this time, you do not. 

I grow yawningly weary of your insistence on attempts to challenge the Chief Justice and his administration at every step. 

You can not determine when and where I meet with judges nor can you determine how and where the staff of the Judiciary must work. You are not in your private sector chambers. You work in a state-funded and regulated organisation that has rules, policies, procedures and norms to which you are expected to adhere. You are advised that you are not at liberty to determine locations and manner of which the Judiciary’s computer systems will connect.

When limited in-person hearings were permitted, in your insatiable desire to defy, you put the lives of members of the public and staff at risk and ran our staff ragged as you refused to adhere to the protocols set.  

I consider your actions then and your correspondence now to be highly irresponsible. 

The world is in the throes of a pandemic. We are all quite fed up; you, no more than me, but I take my responsibility for the safety of staff and the public as well as my responsibility for the administration of this organisation seriously. In administering this organisation I do not have the luxury of taking only myself and my personal success into consideration. I must take into account all persons and all systems together which comprise the Judiciary; or which are required for the Judiciary to run.  This is where our knowledge and our interests diverge.  

It is not lost on me that you tend to be firmly assured by your sure and unshakable belief that your assessments are always correct; that you are endowed with all knowledge of all things and possess all of the answers to all issues in the judiciary, the country and perhaps the world and o’erhanging firmament.  

No doubt, as normal odds would have it, there are times when you may be right. However, permit me to advise that there are several occasions on which you are not, and several facts to which you are not privy and are not entitled to be. 

You may not choose to like me nor to wish me to be Chief Justice during your tenure as a high court judge and that to my mind is completely irrelevant, however, at this time, I am Chief Justice and constitutionally charged. It is what it is. 

I must therefore point out that judges may sit in virtual sessions at a designated court building or from their homes using court-provided equipment and systems and supported by court staff. Site visits to a locus, a feature with which you display enormous familiarity over extended weekends at the State’s expense in Tobago, are of course permitted when the case reasonably and necessarily demands, and when travel and COVID-19 restrictions allow. 

While I am quite used to your opting to write to me as Chief Justice and copying same to all Judges, and your letters ‘mysteriously’ being reproduced in the newspapers, I note that you have surpassed even your normal level of disrespect by copying the administrative officer of the law association and a single attorney, presumably who either represents you or one of the parties in a matter before you.  

You have further sought to involve a public servant in this organisation by having your secretary email this letter to me. I consider that action to be at the least, tasteless. Since I will not be condoning any more egregious breaches of protocol, kindly be advised that I shall not be opening any emails addressed to me from secretaries or JSO’s.

You will note that despite that further display of disrespect on your part, I will continue to address you personally or through the senior judicial office of Administrative Secretary to the Chief Justice as is proper protocol and as I hold to the belief that “when he goes low, I go high”. 

I thus continue to pray that you eventually mature into the suitable professional you have the potential inside to become. 

Please be guided accordingly.

With every good wish.”

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