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CJ summons judges

Published: 
Monday, December 9, 2013
Amidst talk of ‘assault’ on judiciary
Chief Justice Ivor Archie

Chief Justice Ivor Archie has summoned judges to an important meeting today at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain in the face of what judiciary sources say is an “unprovoked assault” on the administration of justice. But other senior practitioners and some judges maintain that the demand for long-awaited judgments before the Court of Appeal is justified and should not be seen as an attack on the judiciary or the Chief Justice.

 

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has publicly criticised the judiciary for failing to fast-track civil cases where former public officials are accused of fraud. The meeting among the judges also comes on the heels of the latest Salaries Review Commission (SRC) report which, sources say, has recommended a substantial increase in the housing allowance from $10,500 to more than $20,000, which would allow judges to rent “super-grade” houses, and would also give them a reported 15 per cent salary increase.

 

Judges have long maintained that they are entitled to a housing allowance which would allow them to rent super-grade houses. At present, only the Chief Justice occupies a super-grade house, at Goodwood Park, Glencoe. In the past, as part of their terms and conditions, judges were allowed to occupy houses at Federation Park, Port-of-Spain but under the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) administration in the 1980s, that provision was taken away and the judges were granted a housing allowance.

 

The SRC report was scheduled to be laid in Parliament on Friday but parliamentary sources told the T&T Guardian that it had not been presented. Over the last few weeks, several stories began surfacing in the print media, questioning the overseas travel of the Chief Justice and his tardiness in delivering judgments in both civil and criminal appeals. Judiciary sources said they viewed the stories as a campaign against the Chief Justice to drive him out of office.

 

A story in last week’s Sunshine newspaper claimed Archie was about to quit his job to take up a judicial appointment in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. But sources close to Archie last week dismissed the report as untrue. The rumour had been making its rounds in top legal and judicial circles over the last few weeks.

 

 

More recently, two death row inmates--Lester Pitman, who was convicted of the Cascade triple murders, and Gerard Wilson--wrote to the Registrar of the Supreme Court,  Marissa Robertson, threatening to petition the Prime Minister to impeach the Chief Justice. The Appeal Court reserved its decision in March 2010 and November 2009, respectively, in those cases.

 

Last Thursday, in a legal letter, Criston Williams, the attorney representing the two convicted killers, threatened to file a constitutional motion against Archie and the judiciary, because the delays allegedly breached his clients’ constitutional rights. To support his claim, Williams listed 25 criminal appeals dealt with by the Appeal Court over the past 15 years, in which judgments were delivered within a year of the hearing of the appeal. 

 

In response, the Law Association expressed “deep concern” about the inordinate delay in the delivery of judgments and said it was issuing a “clarion call” to the Judiciary to treat the delay issue as a priority. Archie, who presided over both appeals with two other appellate judges, has promised to deliver the written judgments before the Christmas break starts next week. The Appeal Court has given notice that the decision in Wilson’s case will be handed down on December 18.

 

Judiciary: we’re cutting down delays
According to the 2013-2014 annual report of the Judiciary, the delivery of justice has reached an all-time high. The figures shows a marked increase in the clearance rate from 385 in the last period to 548 this year. “This is largely a result of the increase in non-compliance matters listed and disposed during the period,” the report states. The Appeal Court routinely dismisses these matters, which are not filed in keeping with the rules of court. 

 

Non-compliance matters spiked this year from zero in 2011-2012 to 167 in this term, which the report described as a “significant” increase. According to the judiciary report, 5,230 civil matters were filed at the High Court in the 2012-2013 term alone and determinations were made on 5,245.

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