Chief Justice Ivor Archie has accused the media of being biased towards the Judiciary.
Delivering his annual address at the opening of the 2019/2020 Law Term at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, yesterday afternoon, Archie repeatedly claimed that the media was focused on alleged scandals within the organisation and not its successes in improving the local justice system.
Archie said: “What is lamentable is that despite statistics which show increased productivity across the board, the reality is that fact is now overshadowed by perception influenced by political affiliation.”
Archie suggested that journalists are allowing themselves to be entrapped by detractors who seek to advance their political agendas through destabilising State institutions.
“This is aided by the abandonment of the fourth estate of its responsibility to educate and inform or even be responsible at times...Reliance on uninformed but so-called “reliable but anonymous” sources is hardly enough,” Archie said.
While Archie noted that the Judiciary was willing to facilitate requests for information regarding issues affecting it and its initiatives, he said the facility had been used in the past to further unfounded allegations.
“At the risk of criticism, I am being accused of arrogance, I have to say that I am too busy doing the people’s work to keep replying to direct inquiries when they are based on false premises and often impertinent. Please don’t waste any of our time,” Archie said.
Archie then sought to dispel misinformation over the state of the Judiciary.
“Contrary to the impression that is being deliberately propagated we are not in a crisis or a shambles,” Archie said.
Journalists were not the only ones who received stiff criticism from Archie, who also aimed his blows at his colleagues and members of the legal community.
Although Archie did not refer to outspoken critic, Justice Frank Seepersad, directly in his speech, he did make veiled references which appeared to be directed at him (Seepersad) and other judges who have openly raised objections over recent events during Archie’s over decade-long tenure.
“This job is not about profiling in the media or storming big people party. Forgive me for speaking frankly when I say, if you are power or status-driven, you can be as bright as you want, you are not suitable,” Archie said, in an open message to prospective judges.
He also pleaded with his colleagues to be mindful of their public comments and objections as he claimed that they have the potential to undermined the organisation and weaken its independence.
“It produces an environment that breathes division, disunity, self-loathing and the perpetuation of tribalism with all its connotations,” he said.
Seepersad, who gave an exclusive a statement to Guardian Media on his concerns over the state of the organisation on the eve of yesterday’s ceremony, attended the inter-faith service which preceded Archie’s speech.
However, he was not present while Archie was delivering the speech as he had to preside over an emergency hearing of a case involving the Nursing Council of T&T.
Another notable absentee was outspoken High Court Judge Carol Gobin, who was recently assigned to head the Judiciary’s new Family Court in Tobago, which is expected to be launched later this month.
While Archie did not mention Gobin by name, he did state that he was dismayed by objections over a veteran High Court Judge being assigned to the court.
Archie stated that the final decision to reassign judges rests with him. He also noted that only judges with experience and the correct temperament could be assigned to the court.
“Only a special type of judge goes there and it would be very short-sighted indeed if we think we could fix the crime problem in this country without fixing our families,” Archie said.
He also sought to dispel concerns over the Judiciary’s failure to establish a Family Court in San Fernando as he claimed that the project is on the organisation’s agenda over the next year.
Archie made little mention of the Law Association in his speech.
Archie spoke about its report and recommendations on the recruitment process for judges, he did not refer to the association’s investigation into misconduct allegations levelled against him over his friendship with two convicted fraudsters.
“I do not see a direct role in the recruitment process for the Law Association, partly to preserve the confidentiality of applicants and partly because the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) can not be seen to advocate or delegate is constitutional remit,” he said.
Archie recommended that the association work with the Judiciary and its Judicial Education Institute to help introduce continuous education for lawyers as he claimed that recent judicial candidates lacked valuable critical thinking skills.
“I make no apology for my approach that in all of this the most important people are not the lawyers, even judges, but the people who we serve,” Archie said.
The association is expected to meet on Friday for its members to vote on whether it should judicially review Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s decision to ignore its report and corresponding recommendation to institute impeachment proceedings against Archie.
CJ’s full speech, A19