Sunday 30th July, 2006

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Who made the calls to Judge Judy?

Last Sunday’s column called for restraint concerning the drama involving the Chief Justice, the third-ranked office in the order of national precedence.

Subsequent developments have both clouded the situation and demonstrated that the system has the capacity to treat with this complex situation without self-destructing.

Getting at the truth of who made the worrying phone calls from the CJ’s residence to Judge Judith Jones, on 14 July, is proving to be quite elusive, but may yet be of major significance.

First, it was alleged by Police Commissioner Trevor Paul, that one of the calls was made by Justice of Appeal, Stanley John, who emphatically denied it.

The CoP, however, reaffirmed his position. Then came an unsigned statement titled “The Judiciary of T&T,” which claimed that Russell Martineau, SC, one of the CJ’s attorneys, and Evelyn Peterson, Registrar of the Supreme Court, were the people making telephone calls from the CJ’s residence to Justice Jones.

Neither Sharma, CJ, nor John, the statement asserted, spoke at any time to the presiding judge.

Statements presumably intending to add clarity and give assurance had the opposite effect of obscuring the real situation.

The CoP maintained his position, notwithstanding John’s denial. The CJ found it expedient to authorise the issuance of a second release from the Office of the Chief Justice, seeking to clear up the impression that the first statement “in relation to events which took place at (the CJ’s) residence on Friday, 14 July, was a collaborative agreement of the entire judiciary.

“Clearly, this could not be so, as they were not present. The statement, which was issued, was done with the agreement of all parties who were present at the Chief Justice’s residence on Friday, 14 July.”

Significantly, this second release, intending to remove the erroneous impression created by the first, that the entire judiciary backed the statement, left unchanged the information that it was Martineau and Peterson who made the calls to Judge Jones.

Martineau, in a release, refuted this: “I spoke to the learned judge on a mobile phone when the Registrar telephoned the learned judge and passed the phone to me.”

Also, “I agreed with the issuance of a statement on the matter on Sunday, 23 July, but I did not have sight of the final draft, which was issued, as I was in Tobago over the weekend.”

There is a critical nuance in Martineau’s clarification. While he agreed with the issuance of a statement, he certainly did not agree with the statement issued, noting that he did not have sight of the final draft.

If he had, from his clarification, he certainly would have deleted any reference to his telephoning the judge.

Who, then, is standing by the text of the two statements issued on the instruction of the CJ?

What the denials tell us is that neither the CJ, John, nor Martineau made any calls. Registrar Peterson has been silent, though Martineau said she called the judge.

Did she alone make all the calls? Unearthing the truth ought to be a priority.

The President’s intervention and the continuation of the judicial proceedings in the Court of Appeal are two powerful indications of the system functioning in the manner intended.

The President’s address was measured and sensitive. He insisted he was determined to use, not abuse the powers vested in him under the constitution to resolve this issue, even as he was being forced by circumstances to navigate uncharted waters.

While reaffirming his determination to be even-handed, not prejudging outcomes, the President confessed how greatly troubled he was by the events of Friday, 14 July.

After meeting with Justice Jones and the CJ, the President, “without forming a view on the matter, concluded that the public interest required a thorough investigation forthwith.”

The President sought to convey in his carefully-worded address that he did not reach the conclusions he did whimsically, nor was he contemplating action capriciously.

The need for action and his decision to act judiciously were expressed in language that reflected careful deliberation:

“I am faced with a set of circumstances unprecedented in nature in which, in my deliberate judgment, urgent action must be taken, in defence of the rule of law and the administration of justice in the republic.

“That action cannot amount to a usurpation of the principles of due process and the rule of law. The action must be as close as possible to express dictates of the constitution, and above all, must reflect its spirit.

“I am also of the firm view that more damage would accrue to our beloved nation from ‘inaction’ in the present circumstances than the measured action which I propose to take.”

And the measured action? “I have, in my considered judgment, decided that certain courses of action are immediately required as a matter of necessity, in defence of the rule of law and the proper administration of justice in T&T.

“On this, I am taking the benefit of advice.”

Clearly, the President was sending a subtle message. Within 24 hours of his address, the CJ reacted. He decided to cease exercising his judicial function as CJ until resolution of the matters, limiting his function to the purely administrative.

Was this adequate, given the unprecedented circumstances? Obviously not, since the President’s appointment, last Friday, of Justice Roger Hamel-Smith to act as CJ until Sharma’s issues have been resolved.

Panday’s self-interested attempt to exploit politically the impasse involving the CJ should be noted. At the airport, after an extended absence, he attempted to stoke disaffection over this issue.

In vitriolic language, he described it as reeking of racism and irresponsibly called for confrontation. Subsequently, he offensively described the President’s speech as a shame and a disgrace.

But Panday is not a disinterested observer, as the population well knows. His contemptible attempt to attribute mala fides to those professionally discharging their responsibilities to the constitution and the law will not escape it.

Is party unity the only thing he wants to achieve before riding out into the sunset?

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