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Judge on ‘re-route’ lawsuit: No bias so I’m staying
High Court judge James Aboud has refused to recuse himself from the lawsuit brought by the Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM) challenging the Debe to Mon Desir section of the Pt Fortin Highway. Dismissing the recusal application, brought by the Office of the Attorney General in November last year, Aboud said there was no evidence which would convince a logical and informed citizen that he was biased in adjudicating over the case.
Aboud noted: “To suggest that in the mind of the informed and fair-minded observer, a judge, by virtue of the beliefs or actions of any member of his family, will compromise his solemn oath of office is to degrade the thinking of those who are informed and fair-minded and to undersell his or her appreciation of our established legal and judicial traditions.” He criticised allegations raised by state attorneys in the application while describing some as fallacious.
“As much as it is a disservice to the institution of public justice that judges who ought to disqualify themselves do not, it is also a dis-service to the institution and the citizens that it serves to make applications for recusal based on conjectural assertions or flimsy grounds,” he said.
Central to the recusal application are claims by state attorneys that Aboud’s brother, Gary, secretary of an environmental activist group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS), is a close friend of HRM leader Dr Wayne Kublalsingh and is sympathetic to the movement’s cause. The application came after Gary Aboud was arrested while participating in a protest at the International Waterfront Complex, Port-of-Spain, over seismic surveying in the Gulf of Paria.
In his 31-page judgment, Aboud said the State had failed to produce any evidence which showed he was a member of either organisation or that he subscribed to any of their causes. “All that can correctly be said is that Gary Aboud is secretary and chief spokesman for FFOS, that he is passionate about the causes that FFOS pursues and that he is my brother,” Aboud said. He also dismissed claims by the State that participants of the FFOS’s protest on November 13 were chanting anti-highway slogans.
“There is no evidence of such chanting in the edited or unedited video footage. I have played and re-played the video recordings,” Aboud said. He said a mere family relation to an environmental activist was insufficient to alter the mind of an informed observer and it would be speculative to say he would be pressured into a decision in the case because of his brother’s role in the FFOS.
“If this argument is correct, I and my fellow judges might as well take early take early retirement en masse for we have relatives involved in every field of human endeavour,” Aboud said. Before the application was filed, both sets of attorneys were engaged in legal arguments over an injunction sought by the HRM to stop construction work on the controversial segment of the highway. Aboud was called on to adjudicate over his recusal on the same day the State was due to respond to the HRM’s submissions.
State attorneys are expected to begin their submissions on the issue on February 4.