Should the Chief Justice Resign? Yes, but not for the reasons you think.
To date I have opposed the referral of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago’s (LATT’s) report to the Prime Minister and I have also supported the Prime Minister’s decision to not refer that report to President.
The LATT’s report, in my view, was not reliable. It made ‘findings’ based on hearsay and double hearsay. As a matter of principle, therefore, I could not support its referral to the Prime Minister.
In turn, I also supported the Prime Minister’s decision to not refer that report to the President. Not merely because I opposed the report in the first place, but because the Prime Minister acted fairly and dispassionately in the circumstances. He sought, and relied upon, unimpeachable legal advice in rendering his decision. Any purported judicial review of the Prime Minister’s reasonable exercise of discretion is bound to fail.
On Monday, however, by way of letter to the Prime Minister, the LATT sought to dissect the Prime Minister’s decision in the hopes that he would reconsider his position. With respect, I disagree with the LATT’s attempt to impugn legal advice that was both appropriately sought and relied upon. Especially since the two legal opinions that the LATT itself sought to rely upon in helping to inform the membership’s vote in December was roundly criticised as lacking in substance by practically everyone who spoke at that meeting, myself included.
But the situation does not end there.
In recent days we have also seen the publicising of internal emails between Justice Gobin and the Chief Justice. The emails set out Justice Gobin’s disagreement with her assignment to the Family Court in Tobago and the Chief Justice’s response to same.
With the greatest of respect, the very public airing of these matters cannot strengthen the public’s confidence in the administration of justice. The judiciary must distance itself from the familiar bacchanal that we simultaneously love and detest in this country.
In fact, the integrity of the judiciary must be protected at all costs. Not merely from agenda-laden attacks and personal animus, but on principle. It is on this basis that I believe the Honourable Chief Justice should resign.
In my view, the merits of the allegations against the Chief Justice are irrelevant. Nor should my suggestion that he resign be taken as my personal belief in any of those allegations. His resignation should come as a matter of principle. Akin to a judge who recuses themselves from hearing a matter due to the mere perception of bias (as opposed to any actual bias per se); so too the Chief Justice might consider voluntarily resigning to protect the integrity of the Office of the Chief Justice, and judiciary as a whole, despite any wrongdoing.
The judiciary’s own Statements of Principle and Guidelines for Judicial Conduct is instructive in this regard. In sub-section 2.2 it provides that:
“The behaviour and conduct of a judge must reaffirm the people’s faith in the integrity of the judiciary. Justice must not merely be done but must also be seen to be done.”
Maintaining the integrity of the judiciary is therefore both a matter of fact and a matter of perception. I fear that even in the absence of any findings of misconduct by a Presidential tribunal constituted pursuant to section 137 of the Constitution, there is an undeniable perception that the integrity of the judiciary has been impugned.
If the Chief Justice voluntarily resigns, his act of self-sacrifice (as it were) would undoubtedly restore society’s collective faith in the administration of justice, irrespective of one’s agenda. It would be the judicial equivalent of the Kobayashi Maru.