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Judge warns Gafoor, media: Watch your comments
Justice Vasheist Kokaram has issued a warning to suspended deputy chairman Integrity Commission Chairman Gladys Gafoor and members of the media to exercise caution when commenting on issues surrounding her ongoing lawsuit challenging her suspension from the commission.
Kokaram made the statement in the Port-of-Spain High Court while presiding over Gafoor’s matter yesterday afternoon. Kokaram said: “As an experienced judicial officer, the litigant (Gafoor) above all other should have exercised restraint in commenting on the matter.”
Kokaram conveyed the message to Gafoor through her attorneys present saying: “The litigant (Gafoor) has asked for due process for herself, now let her respect the due process of the matter before the court.” Kokaram noted that at a previous hearing of the matter this month, he raised the confidentially restriction on the matter, allowing media reporting because of the public interest and importance of the matter.
Kokaram appealed to reporters present to exercise restraint when reporting on the issues and to practise responsible journalism. “I hope to not see a repeat of this again,” a stern Kokaram warned. The High Court judge was responding to a “complaint” raised by the commission’s attorney, Senior Counsel Deborah Peake.
Peake said: “Neither myself or my client (the commission) is interested in restricting the freedom of the press.” “Yesterday, Gafoor gave an interview with a daily newspaper on matters concerning an application that is before you (Kokaram) tomorrow,” Peake said. The application seeks to strike out several sections of an affidavit which is central to Gafoor’s legal proceedings.
Peake said of the issues being discussed in the newspapers—not the Guardian—were sub judice, under judgment or before the courts. Peake said some of the commentators of the issue included Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley. After raising the issue, Peake provided the judge with copies of the reports for his consideration.
During yesterday’s hearing of the matter, Senior Counsel Avory Sinanan, who is representing the State in the matter, presented his submissions in light of those made by Gafoor’s attorneys on Monday. Gafoor, in her constitutional motion, is challenging a decision by President George Maxwell Richards to suspend her and to appoint a tribunal to investigate the allegations made by her fellow commissioners against her.
On December 19, last year, Gafoor was forced her to recuse herself from a matter involving former Attorney General John Jeremie. Jeremie had written to the commission asking for Gafoor and another commissioner—chartered accountant Seunarine Jokhoo—to be removed from all consideration of his matter, her application stated. The other members of the commission are Ken Gordon (chairman), Prof Ann-Marie Bissessar and Neil Rolingson.
Gafoor was suspended earlier this year after Richards received three “secret letters” from members of the commission complaining about Gafoor’s behavior. According to the evidence in the case before the appointment of the tribunal, Richards met with Gafoor to discuss the allegations.
In her lawsuit, Gafoor claims she was not given copies of the exact complaints but instead was given a “gist” of the issues by Richards. She is challenging Richards’ failure to disclose the documents. In response to her claims yesterday, Sinanan said Gafoor’s disclosure claims were “absolutely without merit.”
He said Gafoor admitted to taking notes during her meeting with the president and even wrote a letter in response to the allegations. He said that although the notes were a crucial piece of evidence in the case, Gafoor’s attorneys did not submit it in the claim before the court. Sinanan said Gafoor should have raised the issues with the tribunal and if still not satisfied, then file the litigation which is before Kokaram.
He said that the appointment of the tribunal did not infringe on Gafoor constitutional rights, as she claimed. The members of the tribunal are former Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) president Michael de la Bastide (chairman), Justice of Appeal Humphrey Stollmeyer and High Court judge Maureen Rajnauth-Lee.
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