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Duke’s lawyers given more time

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A contempt hearing against Public Services Association president Watson Duke for allegedly breaching an injunction against staff of the Immigration Department has been adjourned to allow his lawyers additional time to prepare his defence. Although Industrial Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix said the court was required to adjudicate over contempt proceedings expeditiously, she nevertheless granted the union extra time to obtain evidence and source witnesses.



Earlier in yesterday’s hearing, the union’s lawyer, Douglas Mendes, SC, had said because his clients faced the prospect of jail if found guilty, they were entitled to as much time as needed to present their defence. Mendes said he would only be willing to expedite the trial if Labour and Small and Micro Enterprises Minster Errol McLeod, who obtained the injunction and initiated the contempt proceedings, was willing to withdraw his request for imprisonment of his client.


Mendes also said his client’s defence was also being delayed by some missing pages in a report prepared by the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (Cariri) for the department’s office in Port-of-Spain. He said the report was vital to the testimony of acting Chief Immigration Officer Gerry Downes and as such he could not continue his cross-examination of the senior public servant. 


While testifying last week Friday, Downes admitted there had been issues with toilets, ceiling tiles and hanging wires at the office, but claimed steps had been taken to rectify them since an inspection of the building on July 4. In response to Mendes’s query about the document, lead attorney for the State, Russell Martineau, SC, assured the court he would look into the issue and rectify it.


Martineau was also able to tender the statements of two witnesses, Derek Ali and Keon Brewster. Ali is the lawyer who prepared both the injunction and contempt proceedings for McLeod, while Brewster served the documents on Duke and the union. Permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security Carl Francis is also expected be called as a witness. The case has been adjourned to next Tuesday and Wednesday. 



About the case

McLeod obtained the injunction after immigration staff refused to work for almost two months because of health and safety conditions at the department’s main offices in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando. The action left the department virtually crippled, and led to public outcry from citizens who were unable to renew their passports, even for urgent overseas travel. 


Last week, the minister filed the contempt proceedings against Duke and immigration officer Purdy Babwah, alleging that the two, along with other members of staff, encouraged and participated in industrial action, which they were barred from doing under the injunction granted on July 3.


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