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Trinity Cross unconstitutional

Wednesday, April 29 2009

THE PRIVY Council yesterday ruled that the choice of the name of the Trinity Cross back in 1969 by Queen Elizabeth II was unconstitutional, infringing on the rights of Hindus and Muslims alike in Trinidad and Tobago.

The ruling was a symbolic victory for the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha who took the matter all the way to the Privy Council after losing in the local High Court in 2004, and then in Court of Appeal in 2007.

On April 17, 2008, Cabinet agreed that the name of the Trinity Cross should be changed to the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, and that the national awards should be re- designed so as to replace the Cross with a medal.

Nonetheless this did not stop a panel of Law-Lords from making a ruling about the Trinity Cross during its 39-year history. They found that the name of the award violated the right to individual equality, equal treatment and freedom of religious belief.

However, they made it clear that their ruling was prospective, and was not to effect the legality of the bestowing of the award in previous years.

“The institution of the award of the Trinity Cross as the nation’s highest honour was an infringement of the enjoyment of the rights described in...the Constitution,” Lord Hope of Craighead said in a 20-page ruling. “It was an infringement of the rights and freedoms of members of the Hindu and Muslim communities in Trinidad and Tobago, and it was unconstitutional.”

In delivering a separate agreeing judgement, Lord Mance argued that the Queen’s letters patent was an “executive act, capable of being declared unconstitutional”. In the local courts, the Maha Saba had failed because the letters patent were viewed as specially preserved law under the Constitution.

“It’s a vindication of the 40 years of disquiet and unease silently suffered by the Muslim and Hindu communities whose legitimate grievance with the Trinity Cross was flippantly dismissed by successive governments. I dedicate this victory to the late Dr Wahid Ali and later Dharmacharya Pundit Krishna Maharaj,” said the Maha Saba’s attorney Anand Ramlogan yesterday. “The Government should now consider giving a posthumous award to him because he had symbolically declined the award.”

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