Tuesday 23 April, 2019

Opposition Leader slams 'heartless' restructuring of judiciary

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is slamming the current state of the judiciary after protest action affected many attorneys, litigants and other persons who went to the court to access its services on Monday.

The protest was led by Public Services Association (PSA) President Watson Duke who called for a ‘holiday for justice’ against a proposed human resource transformation by the courts management which the PSA believes will lead to job loss.

The strike action affected the Magistrates Court, the High Court and the Court of Appeal. Notices were placed on the doors of courtrooms indicating that no court would be held as a result of the absence of the court staff.

In a statement issued on Monday, Persad-Bissessar said she has been made aware of the planned restructuring and its potential effects. She labelled the decision ‘heartless’.

“It has been brought to my attention by that there is a re-engineering of the staff at the Judiciary. There are persons who are both on contract and those who are permanent, and I have been told that certain permanent members of staff who have spent decades in the Judiciary are now being asked to resign from their permanent position and reapply for a new position. If the staff member doesn’t reapply then he/she will be transferred to somewhere else in the public service. Imagine a person who has spent his/her entire life as a worker in the Courts - that is all they know, they are experts in the field – being told they will be transferred to somewhere else and they don’t even know where they will be placed.”

“Workers are being asked to give up their permanent positions and apply for temporary contract positions. It is brutal, senseless and heartless. This move raises several questions.”

Persad-Bissessar said the independence of the Judiciary should be guarded jealously and any attempts to interfere with its independence should be condemned.

“I will ensure that the party that I lead will take every action to ensure that the independence of the Judiciary is not compromised, and we will stand on the side of these employees. We must ensure that the workers are allowed to carry out their duties without any fear of being transferred or fired. We must ensure that there is no political interference in the Judiciary.”

The Opposition leader recalled that a few months ago the Attorney General brought a Bill to the Parliament called the Criminal Division and District Criminal and Traffic Courts Act and the Children’s Court.

She noted that the AG said that this Bill will create criminal divisions and remove 100,000 traffic tickets from the Court system. She is noting that this protest had a different effect.

“…they have effectively crashed the Judiciary, just like they do with everything else. The Judiciary is without staff today and matters had to be adjourned. Mothers who had to collect maintenance in court to take care of their children were not able to access those services today. That is the incompetence of Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.”

“The Government brought a Bill to hire more judges not from Trinidad and Tobago only, but all over the Commonwealth. They hired 5 Criminal Court Masters. But, they did not build a single new courtroom in which to put these new judges. The San Fernando Magistrates’ Court is in a total mess, the room currently is covered with a tarpaulin for months. The Princes Town Magistrates’ Court is currently in Rio Claro. It was reported that a Magistrate had to conduct court in a police station. It is shameless for the Attorney General to allow the courts to deteriorate in such a manner. The Court must be seen with dignity and not scorn.”

Persad-Bissessar said this never happened under a UNC Government and promised that when she will make it a priority to have the Judicial Complexes completed and equipped with state of the art courtrooms on her return to office.

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