Injunction granted against judge appointments
In an emergency hearing which ended around 4:00 am on Tuesday morning, Justice Frank Seepersad granted an injunction in the High Court against the appointment of two judges by President Anthony Carmona, mere hours before the event was due to take place.
Justice Seepersad, who was in Tobago for another matter, granted a hearing via video link, to which attorneys representing Maharaj, the State and the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) all attended at the Hall of Justice on Monday night.
The matter, which was filed by former attorney general Anand Ramlogan on behalf of his client, former government minister Devant Maharaj, argued the JLSC was performing its duties without its full complement of five members.
Ramlogan noted that shortly after the lawsuit was filed last month the JLSC admitted it was operating without its full complement, leading to the appointment of Ernest Koylass, SC, on May 17.
Seepersad ruled: "The court is resolute in its view that as a superior court of record and as the ultimate guardian of Constitutional compliance, and in the unique and exceptional circumstances that now exist, it must intervene as the Rule of Law uncompromisingly mandates that the exercise of public power under the Constitution must be engaged in a way that is lawful and must operate in a circumstance where there strict compliance with the Constitution and any other relevant law.
"Accordingly, the court hereby issues an order that the JLSC forthwith advise His Excellency the President to refrain from handing over to the two successful candidates any instrument of appointment to the office of Judge and to put on hold the administering of the oath provided for under s.107 of the Constitution until the returnable date of this Notice of Application which said date shall be Friday 9th June, 2017 at 10 am in SF05 at the High Court of Justice, San Fernando.
"On the said date, the court shall consider, based on the evidence before it, and in particular, the evidence of the affected third parties, whether or not the order made herein ought to continue."
Attorney Gerald Ramdeen: It’s in poor taste
The JLSC is currently under fire following the appointment and resignation of Marcia Ayers-Caesar as a High Court Judge, after it was discovered that there were several unresolved matters under her purview, many of which have since had to be restarted.
Last Thursday, the Law Association passed five motions of no confidence in Archie and the JLSC for its handling of Ayers-Caesar's appointment. The association also called for the resignation of Chief Justice Ivor Archie.
Attorney Gerald Ramdeen, who is a member of Maharaj's legal team, said the ruling is evidence that the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) is in crisis.
“There was an overwhelming vote of no confidence in the members of the JLSC, and that the JLSC and His Excellency, the President, would have advised that two appointments would be made in these circumstances, is in poor taste.”
“Over the past two months the administration of justice and the judiciary has suffered a tremendous loss of confidence in a manner that has never been expressed before and I think generally by the public, who are the persons that the members of the judiciary serve.” he said.
“I found it to be in very poor taste that those that are responsible for the appointment of judges would have taken the position that they are going to, in the face of what is happening now in the administration of justice, rather than take steps to fix the debacle that we find ourselves in, what they have done is basically slapped us in the face and said ‘well, we’ll appoint two more’," he said.
Ramdeen also praised the efforts of Justice Seepersad in hearing the matter in such a short space of time.
“There are good judges in Trinidad and Tobago. I am pleased that the judiciary has once again shown that despite what has happened there are people that are prepared to act in the interest of the people to uphold the constitution and the law,” he said.
He said that he has confidence that persons who seek to undermine the judiciary will suffer the consequences.
AG: Separation of powers remains
The Attorney General, as defendant in the matter, has filed an appeal against Seepersad's injunction which is set for 10.30 am on Tuesday.
“The matter is of grave concern as it touches on and concerns the functionality of the judiciary, and in a much broader context, the functionality of several departments within the State,” Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said.
He said the JLSC has also recently made appointments to the judiciary as well as the office of the Director of the Public Prosecution.
“The call of the action yesterday and considered last night by video link, is one which touches the heart and nerve of extremely important areas of governance and functionality.”
Al-Rawi insisted that while the separation of powers remains, as defendant, the Attorney General’s office would offer aid in a limited scope.
“While the executive is very mindful that the separation of powers should be observed, the office of the Attorney General, as defendant in this matter, has taken a very careful approach to ensuring that the court is given the very best assistance in the very extremely narrow circumstances permitted,” he said.
He added that the matter was heard on an emergency basis and he was given a copy of the papers around 6:00 pm on Monday evening, giving him just over an hour to assemble his legal team.
He added several attorney’s on his team are also preparing for other critical legal matters including the pending appeal on the property tax matter due for Tuesday.
“This matter requires careful consideration and we look forward to the appeal which will be heard this morning,” he said.
On Tuesday the state will appeal the pending property tax injunction, which stopped the enforcement of a press release requiring property owners to submit their forms and relevant documents by June 5.