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Squabbling setting poor example
Trinidad and Tobago as a nation is in crisis, looking to its leaders to provide a sense of hope and stability. Today criminals are roaming our streets and communities without fear while citizens are forced to live as prisoners in their own homes. Innocent people are being murdered indiscriminately with robberies now taking place in broad daylight. People continue to vanish without a trace, never to be seen or heard of again.
This is the reality of our Trinidad and Tobago today; all the while our leaders and highest office holders continue to bicker amongst themselves, in and out of Parliament, within the Judiciary, the Law Association and even the office of the President.
One needs only look at the damage inflicted upon the Judiciary starting with the controversial appointment and resignation of the former Chief Magistrate as a Judge of the Supreme Court in April of last year when the Chief Magistrate resigned less than one week after taking her oath of office as a judge. Things got murkier when the Chief Magistrate complained that she had been pressured by the CJ to resign under threat (allegedly) that if she did not, the President would revoke her appointment.
Following this, two members of the JLSC resigned, the Chief Magistrate commenced legal proceedings against the JLSC and the AG, claiming that her appointment as a judge was revoked in breach of the Constitution, and certain unfortunate statements were issued by the Chief Justice which caused many to question their veracity. In the meantime many accused persons in custody remain in limbo.
Then media stories alleged that the CJ had sought to influence the Judiciary to utilise the security services of an acquaintance of his, who turned out to have a criminal record. This acquaintance has since sought asylum in the United Kingdom, alleging discrimination because of his sexuality and the risk of being murdered should he return home. Other media stories alleged that the CJ had tried to assist other acquaintances to get HDC homes, and that one person used his alleged relationship with the CJ to perpetrate HDC scams for money.
Calls were made by some senior legal practitioners for the CJ to resign, or for the PM to invoke the impeachment procedure under section 137 of the Constitution. The Law Association (LATT) sought to look into the allegations made against the CJ, with a view to considering whether LATT should make a complaint to the PM, but they were blocked by the High Court in proceedings brought by the CJ against LATT.
As if that wasn’t enough, then came the sabbatical controversy. The CJ sought permission from the President to be out of the country for six months to go on sabbatical and the President granted the permission.
Understandably, the PM questioned the CJ’s travel plans, saying that going on sabbatical was not included in the CJ’s terms and conditions of office, it was something only agreed “in principle” by the Salaries Review Commission, but never implemented. And so the PM asked the President to explain.
The President replied that he reaffirmed his decision to grant the CJ permission and said the CJ had a “legitimate expectation” that he was entitled to a sabbatical.
During the course of all of this, High Court judges came out publicly and criticised the CJ, two of them in fact called for him to resign, and a former PNM minister, in a newspaper column, chastised LATT and severely criticised a sitting High Court judge. Tragically, the Judiciary, the legal profession, and the public, are divided in an unprecedented way, with the usual infusion of race and political affiliation muddying it all while our institutions collapse.
Perhaps they all should take a moment to think about the effect their squabbling is having on our country and the example they are setting for the citizens looking on.
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