High court in Trinidad stops swearing-in of two new judges

High court in Trinidad stops swearing-in of two new judges

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The Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Photo by Klaas Vermaas, CC BY-ND 2.0

By Caribbean News Now contributor

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — The High Court in Trinidad granted an interim injunction restraining the president of Trinidad and Tobago from acting on the advice tendered by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) under Section 104(1) of the constitution for Tuesday’s planned appointment and swearing in of two new puisne judges.

Justice Frank Seepersad late on Monday also granted an interim injunction restraining and/or prohibiting the JLSC from tendering any further advice to the president pursuant to Section 104(1) and/or any other section(s) of the constitution of Trinidad and Tobago regarding the appointment of any new judicial officers.

The court was responding to a public interest application filed by Devant Maharaj for the construction and/or interpretation of Section 110(3)(b) of the constitution of Trinidad and Tobago in relation to the appointments of retired justices of appeal as members of the JLSC as persons with legal qualifications not in active practice.

The applicant’s legal team was led by former attorney general Anand Ramlogan, SC.

The thrust of the applicant’s complaint is centered on the current composition of the JLSC insofar as there currently exist circumstances where two retired judges are members of the JLSC.

In the substantive action before the court, the claimant has invoked the court’s jurisdiction to declare that the JLSC is improperly constituted and that the current composition does not accord with the provisions of s. 110(3) of the constitution, which requires a full complement of five members, namely, the chief justice, the head of the Public Service Commission, a sitting or retired judge and two “persons with legal qualification… not in active practice as such”. Maharaj’s lawyers argued that a retired judge does not fall in the last category.

According to the court, it appears that the framers of the constitution sought to distinguish between persons having a legal qualification and persons who, having such a qualification, held or holds the office of judge of a court having unlimited jurisdiction.

“…it appears that there is merit in the argument that the constitution sought to differentiate between legally trained persons who hold or held the office of Judge as opposed persons holding legal qualifications who did not serve in such a capacity,” Seepersad said in his ruling.

The government has appealed the ruling and an emergency hearing was due to be held on Tuesday.

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