Attorney Christopher Hamil-Smith

LOCAL COURT MAY NOT BE THE PROPER FORUM: Attorney Christopher Hamil-Smith, representing FIFA.

BY 3 p.m. next Tuesday the High Court will deliver its ruling in a legal claim brought by William Wallace, ousted president of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) and other officials against their dismissal in March by the world’s football governing body, FIFA.

Presiding over the trial yesterday was Justice Carol Gobin, who, prior to proceeding with the matter, shot down an application by FIFA’s lead counsel Christopher Hamel-Smith, SC, for the claim to be adjourned pending the hearing of an appeal filed by his client against one of the judge’s previous rulings.

In dismissing the application, Justice Gobin said FIFA was making “a mockery” of the rule of law in Trinidad and Tobago.

One of the main bases for Hamel-Smith’s application was that subsequent to the last court hearing, when the judge set yesterday’s trial date, FIFA had taken the decision to cease all operational and management functions of the normalisation committee it had appointed to replace the TTFA board.

As a direct result of this decision, the attorney said, Williams and the rest of the former executive members were now free to regain control of the TTFA if they so desired.

Therefore, he said there was no need for the trial to proceed with any urgency.

The other limb of his application was that when the appeal comes up for hearing later this month, the Court of Appeal may very well find that the local court was not the proper forum for the dispute to be heard and settled, as FIFA is arguing.

If this happens to be the case, Hamel-Smith contended there would be no need for the claim to proceed to trial.

“The TTFA has achieved a large part of what they were seeking to achieve which is, they have gotten the normalisation committee to down their tools and they have a clear way if they choose to do sh..,” Hamel-Smith said, before Justice Gobin interjected.

“Are you serious, Mr Hamel-Smith? The TTFA have gotten them to do that? The TTFA came to the court and got a limited injunction on the last occasion but further to that and even as the correspondence of the 6th of October says, the issue as to who is in charge has not been settled. In fact, it is clear that it is ongoing for everybody else except for FIFA,” said the judge.

Pressed further by Justice Gobin, Hamel-Smith admitted that if Williams and the other former executives were to decide to re-take control of the TTFA, all of its football activities would have to take place only within Trinidad and Tobago since it would be taking place outside of the FIFA system.

However, it would not be allowed to take part in any activities outside of the jurisdiction.

Authority of the court 

In response, attorney Dr Emir Crowne—one of TTFA’s attorneys—said the application should be dismissed.

He said the court had already made its decision for the trial to proceed on yesterday’s date.

“The change in circumstances is one occasioned by FIFA. If I were to draw an analogy, it would be like self-induced frustration in a contract perspective.

“FIFA themselves, it is like they don’t know what they want. They have occasioned this change in circumstances and it is improper that they can indirectly or directly interfere with these proceedings through their own acts,” he said.

Crowne went on to say the latest change of circumstances was an indication that “when FIFA does not know what to do, it tries every manoeuver it thinks is available to achieve what it wants.”

Justice Gobin continued to question Hamel-Smith.

She said one thing she has not been able to get out of her mind was the fact that on two occasions, FIFA indicated it had no intention of recognising the authority of the court.

“Has there been any change in that position because it seems to me there is an inconsistency in coming to the court and asking the court to grant indulgences to apply the over-riding objectives when at the same time you are making it absolutely clear and you continue to make clear the fact that this matter remains for determination before this court really doesn’t make a difference to you at the end of the day.”

She said a litigant cannot on one hand reject the authority of the court and then request that the same court grant applications in its favour.

In response to her question, Hamel-Smith said he did not receive any instructions from his client with regard to that issue.

Justice Gobin said there should never even be a question of the authority of the court.

“It makes a mockery of our system to be engaging in this if a party will not confirm that it is prepared to be bound by the rule of law and to observe the rule of law and to have respect for the rule of law in this country,” she said, before dismissing the application and allowing the matter to proceed to trial.

Given the ruling, Hamel-Smith said he had received instructions from FIFA to not make any submissions at trial if the court had so ruled, since to date it has not filed any defence.

Because of this, only Crowne and the TTFA’s other attorney Matthew Gayle were given the opportunity to present arguments to the court.

Following the completion of those submissions, Justice Gobin said she needed a few days to prepare her judgment.

She stated that on Tuesday, no later than 3 p.m., the judgment will be e-mailed to the attorneys for both sides.

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