Trinidad and Tobago chief justice admits to error
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — Chief Justice Ivor Archie has admitted that the Trinidad and Tobago judiciary made an error last month when it announced that the 53 cases left unfinished by former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar would have to be restarted.
An embattled Archie made the statement in a letter sent on Tuesday in response to lawsuit threat against him, members of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) and legal stakeholders, who met and discussed the issue of the unfinished cases before the judiciary communicated the position on the future of the cases on May 25, the Trinidad Guardian reported.
In the letter, Archie’s lawyer Ian Roach, a former independent senator, said that the lawsuit threatened by Anand Ramlogan, SC, on behalf of a 16-year-old murder accused whose preliminary inquiry was before Ayers-Caesar, was based on a “wholly erroneous premise”.
“It is unfortunate that you have construed the media release (which was regrettably not worded as it should have been) in the way that you have.
“The purpose of the meeting was simply to obtain the views of the persons in attendance, not to make a decision as to how the matters would or should be dealt with by the relevant presiding magistrate,” Roach said.
He also claimed that Archie and the JLSC did not give any instructions to any judicial officer on how to proceed when the cases came up for hearing before them.
However, a release issued by the Judiciary’s Court Protocol and Information Manager Alicia Carter-Fisher stated: “Key stakeholders comprising the director of public prosecutions, the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago represented by its vice president and members of the criminal bar, the acting chief magistrate, senior magistrates and the registrar of the Supreme Court to determine the way forward for the fifty-three (53) part heard matters left unresolved by the former chief magistrate, Marcia Ayers-Caesar.
“Consensus was reached and the meeting on Wednesday 24th May 2017 agreed to have all fifty-three (53) matters restarted ‘de novo’. The acting chief magistrate will preside over indictable matters…”
Archie’s position on the issue appears to directly contradict acting chief magistrate Maria Busby-Earle-Caddle, who had repeatedly informed those affected that she was “awaiting instructions on how to proceed with their cases” before she attended the meeting and then announced that the cases would have to be restarted before her.
Appearing before Busby-Earle-Caddle on June 1, director of public prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, expressed concern over the position and suggested that she not proceed on the issue until he and the accused men attorneys were able to present submissions on the issue.
“The DPP does not know for a fact that Mrs Ayers-Caesar resigned. This is a serious matter and needs serious consideration and your worship should tread with caution,” Gaspard, who was also in attendance at the meeting, had said during the hearing. The submissions are expected to be made when the cases come up next for hearing before Busby-Earle-Caddle next Tuesday.
In his letter to Archie sent last Monday, Ramlogan questioned the ability of the committee to make a decision as to the future of the cases, as he said that preliminary inquiries were within the sole purview of the magistrates to which they are assigned.
“Thus, this group of persons had no authority and legal standing to make the decision that my client’s case must be heard de novo before a different magistrate,” Ramlogan said.
He also criticised the decision to hold the meeting.
“The convening of this meeting with a hand-picked selection of persons in attendance with the intention of seeking to find a solution to the chaos that has ensued since the appointment of the former chief magistrate to the Supreme Court is undoubtedly an attempt to do damage control, with very little or no consideration being given to the legal consequences and prejudice that would follow for those, like my client, who are being deprived of their liberty by the state,” Ramlogan said.
Ramlogan also questioned why the accused men were not consulted on the issue as he described the “blanket” approach allegedly taken as irrational.
“My client, a minor who has been detained by the state under conditions which are not in accordance with the law is undoubtedly the person most affected by these events, yet he was given no audience,” Ramlogan said.
The issue is the latest controversy to arise over Archie’s and the JLSC’s handling the Ayers-Caesar debacle.
Last Friday, Ayers-Caesar wrote to Archie and President Anthony Carmona threatening a lawsuit if she is not reinstated as a High Court Judge.
In the letters, Ayers-Caesar claimed that she was pressured by Archie to resign under the assurance that she would be reappointed to complete her unfinished cases.
She is contending that her resignation, two weeks after taking up the post, was null and void and illegal as Archie and the JLSC did not follow the constitutional process for the removal of a judge when they allegedly forced her resignation.