"Ill-advised and precipitous."
For the second time in less than two weeks, attorneys representing Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke have accused the Industrial Court of appearing biased. Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes made the statement yesterday at the St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain, court as he presented an application to have a five-member panel of judges recuse itself from presiding over the contempt motion against Duke. Refering to transcripts from last week’s hearings, Mendes said Industrial Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix had made pronouncements on key issues which were yet to be presented by attorneys.
While he said it appeared Thomas-Felix may have prejudged the case, Mendes was careful to note he was not imputing the court was compromised. “It is not if the court is actually biased but instead a fair-minded and informed observer would conclude that there is a real possibility the court has prejudged the issue,” Mendes said. In response, lead attorney for Labour, Small and Micro Enterprises Minister Errol Mc Leod, who obtained an injunction against the PSA on behalf of Cabinet on July 3, Russell Martineau, SC, described Mendes’ application as “absurd and unreasonable.” “I don’t think there is anything that has fallen from your lips to support the allegation that you have failed to keep an open mind,” Martineau said to Thomas-Felix.
After standing down the hearing and briefly discussing the issue with her colleagues, Thomas-Felix announced that the application was dismissed, saying: “This court has made no judgment and has not come to any conclusion. There is no basis for the bench to recuse itself.” At the start of the first hearing on July 11, Mendes claimed the judges were not an impartial tribunal as their decision might be affected by the fact that their tenure in their posts was controlled by Cabinet. The judges rejected the claim. During yesterday’s hearing, Mendes was able to complete his cross-examination of Mc Leod’s first witness, acting Chief Immigration Officer Gerry Downes, and began questioning a second witness Gaekwad Ramoutar.
Ramoutar, the chief inspector at the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, testified he had reviewed his colleagues’ inspection report for the department’s office at Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, prepared a day after the injunction was granted on July 3. While he admitted the report indicated there were several areas of non-compliance, Ramoutar ruled the building did not pose any serious or imminent danger to staff.