There is yet another controversy within the Judiciary, this time over the procedure for granting judges permission to leave the country outside of the organisation’s two annual vacation periods.
The issue was raised by outspoken High Court Judge Frank Seepersad in a letter sent to all of his colleagues on Tuesday.
In the letter, which was obtained by Guardian Media, Seepersad called on his colleagues to call for a meeting with Chief Justice Ivor Archie to discuss the issue.
“The Chief Justice, as the head of this institution, can put aside his views in relation to the positions expressed concerning him and we can all commit to exercise restraint as we engage each other to discuss issues which may impact upon our ability to effectively discharge our obligations to the citizens of this Republic or which may impact the terms and conditions attendant to our appointments as judges,” Seepersad said.
He also noted that for the past two years there have no meeting with judges chaired by Archie.
Seepersad admitted that his letter stemmed from his request to attend a conference in Germany in July, which was sponsored by the United States Department of Defence. He attached correspondence between him, Archie and President Paula-Mae Weekes in which his request was effectively denied.
In his letter, requesting permission to attend the conference, Seepersad noted that he had already managed his case-load to ensure that he delivers all outstanding judgements before his scheduled trip.
Responding to Seepersad, Archie expressed reservations over the usefulness of the conference to his job and over how Seepersad was selected to participate. However, he did not directly object to the request and still forwarded it to Weekes for her approval.
In a letter sent to Archie by Weekes, she also expressed similar reservations as Archie as she denied the request.
“Nothing in those documents satisfies me that the programme content is related to the judicial functions of the honourable judge such as would justify his extended absence from the jurisdiction,” Weekes said.
Archie then responded to Seepersad and claimed that he had difficulties in justifying the request based on his communication with Weekes.
In the letter to his colleagues, Seepersad suggested that the process used by Archie and Weekes to handle his request may have contravened the Judges (Conditions of Service and Allowances) Regulations.
Under the regulations, judges seeking to travel during the court’s Easter and Christmas vacation periods need the approval of both the Chief Justice and the President. Judges seeking to take their annual vacation leave, which they are entitled to in addition to the set court vacation period, need the Chief Justice’s approval.
“It was my understanding that once the Chief Justice approved a request to travel out of the jurisdiction, during the term, that the President’s approval was a formality,” Seepersad said.
He said the resolution of the issue would assist his colleagues in the future.
“In any event, the issue requires clarification as we should all clearly understand how and under what circumstances travel during the term may be allowed, how days are to be accounted for and whether we must now apply for vacation for personal travel during the term,” he said.
Seepersad also suggested that the process should be more transparent.
“On the issue of travel, there is also need to discuss the official travel schedules of all judges as many among us frequently go on training or courses but yet most of us are unaware as to how the attendees are selected and the costs associated with same,” Seepersad said.