For some time now, things have appeared increasingly unsettled in the Judiciary. First, an Attorney General questioned the competence of the judiciary at the Supreme Court opening. The Bar Association passed a resolution calling for the removal of a judge, then engaged Prime Minister Dean Barrow in a public tiff over his manner of appointing judges to both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. There is the popular view that the PM moved with undignified haste to retire the Chief Justice whose tenure could have been extended. Now, this session of the Court of Appeal has gotten off with a prickly start. In the nationalization of Telemedia appeal, three of the available four judges have recused themselves. In another case, two of the judges recused themselves and there is an application for a judge to remove himself in another case.
To meet this shortage of appeal judges, the PM on October eighth wrote to the Leader of the Opposition, John Briceño, proposing that Judge Oswell Legall, a Judge of the Supreme Court, be temporarily promoted to hear appeals against decisions of his colleagues at the Supreme Court. Word to News Five is that the Leader of the Opposition has responded to the Prime Minister raising a number of concerns over the appointment, chief among them, is what he deems is the unconstitutionality of the appointment because the section of the constitution 101(1) referred to by the PM, does not provide for the temporary appointments to the court of appeal. Briceño also took note that the letter from the PM was dated October eighth for the appointment that was in place since October fourth. According to the leader of the opposition, it is not right for the Executive to appoint a judge to hear a single case selected from the Court of Appeal list. In this instance it is the case of the Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago versus Cedric Flowers.
In his letter the leader of the Opposition points out that Justice Legall is the most junior member of the Supreme Court bench and has a full calendar of cases for October. He also questions the basis on which Justice Legall was selected.
Senior members of the Bar have raised eyebrows at this latest maneuver in the judiciary and tell News Five that it is an “unusual practice” and “very unhealthy” for the independence of the judiciary.