The Chief Justice today responded directly to Justice Frank Seepersad who took issue with Archie's decision to prohibit most 'in person' hearings at court buildings without consultation, and to what Seepersad said was to the detriment of the functioning of the Judiciary.
The following is the letter:
My dear Frank,
Yet again you appear to believe that your independence extends to administration.
It does not. When and if you hold the position of Chief Justice you will have administrative responsibility. At this time, you do not.
I grow yawningly weary of your insistence on attempts to challenge the Chief Justice and his administration at every step.
You can not determine when and where I meet with judges nor can you determine how and where the staff of the Judiciary must work. You are not in your private sector chambers. You work in a state funded and regulated organisation that has rules, policies, procedures and norms to which you are expected to adhere. You are advised that you are not at liberty to determine locations and manner of which the Judiciary’s computer systems will connect.
When limited in-person hearings were permitted, in your insatiable desire to defy, you put the lives of members of the public and staff at risk and ran our staff ragged as you refused to adhere to the protocols set.
I consider your actions then and your correspondence now to be highly irresponsible.
The world is in the throes of a pandemic. We are all quite fed up; you, no more than me, but I take my responsibility for the safety of staff and the public as well as my responsibility for the administration of this organisation seriously. In administering this organisation I do not have the luxury of taking only myself and my personal success into consideration. I must take into account all persons and all systems together which comprise the Judiciary; or which are required for the Judiciary to run. This is where our knowledge and our interests diverge.
It is not lost on me that you tend to be firmly assured by your sure and unshakable belief that your assessments are always correct; that you are endowed with all knowledge of all things and possess all of the answers to all issues in the judiciary, the country and perhaps the world and o’erhanging firmament.
No doubt as normal odds would have it, there are times when you may be right. However, permit me to advise that there are several occasions on which you are not, and several facts to which you are not privy and are not entitled to be.
You may not choose to like me nor to wish me to be Chief Justice during your tenure as a high court judge and that to my mind is completely irrelevant, however at this time, I am Chief Justice and constitutionally charged. It is what it is.
I must therefore point out that judges may sit in virtual sessions at a designated court building or from their homes using court provided equipment and systems and supported by court staff. Site visits to a locus, a feature with which you display enormous familiarity over extended weekends at the State’s expense in Tobago, are of course permitted when the case reasonably and necessarily demands, and when travel and COVID 19 restrictions allow.
While I am quite used to your opting to write to me as Chief Justice and copying same to all Judges, and your letters ‘mysteriously’ being reproduced in the newspapers, I note that you have surpassed even your normal level of disrespect by copying the administrative officer of the law association and a single attorney, presumably who either represents you or one of the parties in a matter before you.
You have further sought to involve a public servant in this organisation by having your secretary email this letter to me. I consider that action to be at the least, tasteless. Since I will not be condoning any more egregious breaches of protocol, kindly be advised that I shall not be opening any emails addressed to me from secretaries or JSO’s.
You will note that despite that further display of disrespect on your part, I will continue to address you personally or through the senior judicial office of Administrative Secretary to the Chief Justice as is proper protocol and as I hold to the belief that “when he goes low, I go high”.
I thus continue to pray that you eventually mature into the suitable professional you have the potential inside to become.
Please be guided accordingly.
With every good wish
Earlier in the day, Archie sent the following correspondence to his judges.
I refer to the Current Covid19 pandemic and the recent misguided missive of Seepersad J. Judges are reminded that their calling a witness, litigant or attorney to appear at any location is a judicial command, failure of which carries consequences. By compelling persons to physically attend upon you in a place in person, you assume a moral AND legal responsibility to take all reasonable steps to safeguard their health and safety and to mitigate foreseeable risk. The judiciary will NOT support any maverick disregard of that responsibility. Anyone who undertakes doing so in any location not designated by the Chief Justice for that purpose does so at their own risk and the liability, both legal and moral is theirs alone. The Judiciary also has a responsibility to not expose its employees to avoidable risk. Please note that judges are NOT the employers. It also follows from the forgoing that it would be highly irresponsible to send any of our staff to private premises over which we, have no control.
Marshal’s assistants are pricked by the Marshal of Trinidad and Tobago to attend certain places at certain times in keeping with the Marshal’s role and authority.
I do not believe that I need explain the judicial inappropriateness of a judge sitting in a private lawyer’s chambers to conduct court hearings in person. The ethical issue is trite.
I recognize the stellar effort of judges in all divisions to continue to deliver justice to litigants virtually. Judiciaries across the entire world are contending with the restriction of in-person hearings. With our virtual capacity, we are fortunate as our judiciary is ahead of many others.
As you know, the professionals on our medical response team are advising us on appropriate measures and I take advice from them. Some of you have had cause to have personal interaction with them and I am sure that you will join me in thanking them for their dedicated service to us. We are currently arranging for staff to be split into definitive teams so that if it is necessary for them to come to the buildings, they will do so on specific days. Persons, including judges who are not scheduled for the Supreme Court buildings on any given day must not attempt to enter the building. This will mitigate against cross-contamination and ensure that the whole Supreme Court would not be required to self-quarantine at any given time. These team rosters are used by our Medical Response Team for contact tracing and works to ensure that there are persons able to carry on if others are restricted. So far, a similar system has been working in the District Courts and the FCD and is now being co-ordinated more intensely.
I therefore ask ALL judges to kindly adhere to the most recent Directions and Guidelines and avoid unnecessarily exposing others and our staff (many of whom have to take public transportation and come from households with vulnerable persons) to avoidable risk.
This virus is very serious and is not to be taken lightly. Several persons are constantly working very hard to keep the judiciary running and safe, and while from where you stand, some of you may have the luxury of only seeing it from its effect on you or your work, there are others including me, who have the responsibility to see it from all angles.
This is a time for solidarity with the entire nation and the world in mitigating the certain harm of covid 19. Your cooperation is required. This is a time to use caution and take every precaution ... it may make the difference between life and death for us judges, our devoted staff, stakeholders, litigants and every member of their households.
Judges are advised accordingly.