“Trinidad and Tobago,” I patiently repeated for the second time.
“What?” She frustratingly retorted.
Former High Court judge and deputy chairman of the Integrity Commission, Sebastian Ventour, has accepted blame for his failure to tell President Anthony Carmona he had three outstanding court judgments before taking up the position on the commission. He said this was an oversight which he has regretted.
In February Ventour resigned, after serving for seven months on the commission, to be reappointed a judge for one day to deliver the judgments. He was later reappointed to the commission. In a three-page letter sent yesterday, Ventour made the comment in response to an editorial in the T&T Guardian which was published on March 30. The Guardian had been seeking comments from him since he stepped down and was reappointed.
“On reflection, I consider it was my responsibility to have brought the issue of the outstanding judgments to the attention of the President at the material time,” Ventour wrote. “That I did not was an oversight which I regret, but given the long history of recall this did not appear to be a problem at the time. Later as a member of the commission I discovered that I had to resign from the commission and be reappointed as a judge in order to deliver the outstanding judgments.”
Ventour said for as many years as he could remember, judges had retired from the Judiciary and been reappointed by the President, on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, for a very short period, sometimes for a day, to deliver outstanding judgments.
There is much precedent for that practice, Ventour said. Saying nevertheless—and despite his own case—that he believed the practice should cease, Ventour said good governance within the Judiciary demands that in cases where a judge’s retirement is imminent, no new cases should be assigned to the judge’s docket within six months of his or her retirement date.
He said while he was at the commission he was not doing any judicial work, as he was not functioning in the capacity of a judicial officer. Ventour said if he had not completed the judgments, the three outstanding cases he had before retirement would have had to be done afresh, and he had a moral obligation to complete them.
“I would argue that I could not have been acting as a judicial officer following my retirement from the bench. I believe I had a moral commitment to complete and deliver the said judgments and that I proceeded to do,” Ventour said. He said he continued to do legal research, and not judicial work, while he was a member of the commission.
Ventour said he has been a lecturer at the Hugh Wooding Law School for many years and was doing legal research daily, whether for the purpose of teaching or otherwise. On the absence of his written judgment in the Mora Ven case from the Supreme Court Web site, Ventour said he had no answer and only the court’s librarian could provide a proper explanation. “I myself have not checked the Web site but there is no mystery there as has been alleged,” he said.
“There is nothing to hide. I agree that the public should have access to the written judgment, especially young lawyers who are particularly engaged in the study and the practice of corporate law.”
What the editorial said
The Sunday Guardian editorial raised questions on Ventour’s staying mum. “He was vocal last year July in justifying why he should not have resigned from the Constitution Commission while taking up an appointment with the Integrity Commission. A month later he resigned from the Constitution Commission and no reason was given.
“In February this year, he suddenly resigned from the Integrity Commission to become a judge for a day to hand down his ruling in three matters. He will not answer whether he was doing judicial work while on the job with the Integrity Commission and he will not answer questions related to whether he was simultaneously involved in handling any matters involving George Nicholas III inside the Integrity Commission while writing up a judgment for the High Court involving Mr Nicholas,” the editorial said.
It also questioned why only two of the three judgments delivered by Ventour were posted on the court’s Web site, and the one involving Nicholas was not.