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Mind your business

Published: 
Sunday, July 29, 2018
Judge scolded for challenging CJ’s release
Justice Frank Seepersad

Two High Court judges have accused Chief Justice Ivor Archie of abusing his power by issuing a press release via the Judiciary in response to a private matter he currently has before the Privy Council.

Archie’s use of his office in this private matter has been deemed “inappropriate and unacceptable” by the judges.

However, in response to concerns raised, Archie told his subordinates that their time would be more productively employed attending to their own jobs and allowing him to attend to his.

The latest tiff between Archie and his subordinates came following the Privy Council’s decision to reserve its judgement in the matter of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) versus Archie to a date to be determined.

On Tuesday, the Judiciary issued a press release on the matter.

“For the purpose of clarification, the issue before the Privy Council is not whether the Chief Justice is guilty of misconduct. During proceedings before the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Privy Council; the main issue is whether the LATT has the authority to investigate the Chief Justice (or for that matter any Judge) with a view to finding fact. The issue of an interpretation of the powers of the Law Association under the Legal Profession Act has been deliberated,” the release stated.

However, in an email correspondence sent to Archie as well as all the other Appeal Court and High Court judges in this country on Friday, a copy of which was obtained by the Sunday Guardian, Justice Frank Seepersad took issue with Archie issuing the statement via the Judiciary, noting it was a private matter and constituted Archie using his office to further his private agenda.

“I read with concern, a media release dated 23rd July 2018 issued by the Judiciary in relation to the matter between the Chief Justice and the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. The matter was instituted by the Hon The Chief Justice in his private capacity and not by or on behalf of the Judiciary,” Seepersad wrote.

“We are all part of the Higher Judiciary and no collective decision was taken by us to correct any media report or to clarify any issue that is before the Board for its consideration. In addition, I am unaware of any meeting and/or position that the said matter impacts us as Judges or was instituted so as to clarify whether the Law Association can investigate our individual conduct.

“I am of the view that the use of public office to further a personal agenda is inappropriate and unacceptable. In the circumstances, I wish to categorically distance myself from the said media release.”

A little over an hour after Seeperesad sent his email, Archie responded telling him to mind his own business.

“As administrative head of this institution I do not need to be advised by you or anyone else on whether any matter impacts the Judiciary as a whole, nor is the mandate of any meeting required to issue a press release. I do not run the Judiciary by committee although as Chief Justice it is my prerogative to consult with other judges as and when I deem necessary,” Archie stated.

“I have chosen to respond on this singular occasion since your email was addressed separately to me in addition to the other judges. Your time will be more productively employed attending to YOUR job while allowing me to attend to mine.”

Breach of ethics

Later in the day, however, Justice Carol Gobin added her voice to the issue, agreeing that Archie’s use of the “stamp of the Judiciary” for his private matter was inappropriate.

“Any press release coming from the Judiciary should be circulated to the judges. Up to the time of writing, this one on a hearing between the CJ and the LATT has not been sent to us. If the CJ believed that a release was necessary because in some way it concerns a matter which ‘impacts the Judiciary as a whole’, then the failure to send it to us is inexcusable,” Gobin wrote.

Gobin said the purpose of last Monday’s release from the Judiciary was clear.

“The purpose of the release is clear even to the uninformed observer. Any explanation of what happened at the end of the hearing in London, ‘the eloquence of the CJ’s lawyers notwithstanding,’ ought to have come from the Chief Justice’s lawyers whom he has retained privately, one assumes, to prosecute his private case against the LATT. The use of the stamp of the Judiciary was inappropriate to put it mildly,” she wrote.

Gobin suggested that Archie take a look at the Code of Ethics as she also took him to task for his response to Seepersad.

“The statement of the CJ that ‘as administrative head of this institution’ he does not need to be advised by Frank or anyone else on whether any matter impacts on the Judiciary as a whole brings me no comfort,” Gobin wrote.

“The events of the last several months which have brought us to this point clearly demonstrate that the CJ needs serious and objective advice on this very issue. I respectfully suggest he start with a look back at our Code of Ethics and if something is not sufficiently clear, then he should exercise his prerogative to consult with some judges, starting with the three most senior ones.

“The CJ needs to be reminded that what is impacting on the Judiciary as a whole extends well beyond the legal issues that fall to be determined in this litigation.”

In fact, Gobin said this was not the first release that had raised some questions.

“At a recent meeting, the judges agreed that a statement issued by the Judiciary on sabbatical leave was misleading. Contrary to what was stated in it, there was no adoption of the internal committee report nor were any administrative arrangements put in place.

“I am extremely concerned that the administrative machinery of the organisation was used in that case to put out a false statement and more recently to promote a position or an explanation of a party to litigation. There is an obvious danger in allowing this to continue even by our silence,” Gobin wrote.

She added, “For those of us who have been working without accumulated vacation leave calculated to exclude public holidays and weekends and rainy days and almost sabbatical leave, let us all enjoy our well-deserved break.”

The High Court is scheduled to go on its annual vacation shortly.

More info 

The controversy surrounding Chief Justice Ivor Archie arose late last year in a series of newspaper reports which accused him of attempting to persuade judges to change their State-provided security in favour of a private company where his friend and convicted fraudster Dillian Johnson worked. Archie was also accused of attempting to fast-track Housing Development Corporation (HDC) applications for his friends.

Archie only responded to the allegations once, where he denied discussing judges’ security but admitted to suggesting persons for HDC housing. Archie has repeatedly refused the association’s request and calls from colleagues to directly respond to the allegations since then.

In November last year, the Council of the Law Association called on Archie to respond to the allegation that he discussed the judges’ security with a private individual. The association’s council then appointed a sub-committee to investigate the allegations and sought the legal advice of two eminent Queen’s Counsel to determine if the allegations were sufficient to trigger impeachment proceedings under Section 137 of the Constitution.

Archie is currently challenging the LATT matter at the Privy Council.

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