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State loses final recusal bid
The State has lost its final bid to have a High Court judge recuse himself from hearing the Highway Reroute Movement (HRM) constitutional motion lawsuit, with the Privy Council yesterday refusing to grant it leave to pursue its appeal on the issue. However, the HRM’s legal victory does not stand to seriously affect the status of the case as hearings before Justice James Aboud were unfazed while the appeal application was being determined by the British-based court.
As part of its decision not to grant the leave, the panel of judges also ordered the State to pay the HRM’s legal costs for defending the application. The recusal request was centred around Aboud alleged apparent bias in the case because of his brother Gary’s role as secretary of environmental group ,Fisherman and Friends of the Sea, an organisation which the State contended was connected with the HRM and shared its views.
A hearing was held simultaneously before Aboud in Port-of-Spain High Court yesterday morning during which he heard submissions from the State over an interim injunction stopping construction work at the disputed Debe to Mon Desir segment of the Solomon Hochoy Highway extension project. The group sought the urgent injunction earlier this month, when the State was due to respond to a similar application for an injunction filed almost four months ago.
The initial application was blighted by several delays, including the State’s recusal application which was dismissed by both Aboud and the Appeal Court before it was appealed to the Privy Council. The group’s lead attorney, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, had said his clients could not wait for the first application to be determined, as the State had ramped up construction at the site since the beginning of this month and the project might reach an advanced stage while the initial application was being determined.
Maharaj was present in the Privy Council for the decision. Responding to the request for the injunction, the State’s lead attorney, Russell Martineau, SC, raised a series of issues which he said precluded the group from being able to seek the relief. He said: “I might be wrong but this claim can not succeed... everything is overwhelmingly in our favour.”
While questioning the timing of the group’s application, Martineau noted that although the group was aware that construction works were taking place since November 2012, it only sought to stop the work almost 13 months later. The HRM’s legal team is expected to respond to Martineau when the case continues next week Thursday.