A HIGH COURT judge is urging his colleagues to call for a meeting with Chief Justice Ivor Archie to discuss “issue” which may have some impact on their ability to do their jobs or on the terms and conditions of their appointment as judges.
Justice Frank Seepersad made the call after both the CJ and President Paula-Mae Weekes refused to give him their approval for him to take vacation leave outside of the August/September court vacation period when judges usually go on leave.
In his letter to his colleagues, Seepersad noted that for the past two years, except for two meetings chaired by Justice Allan Mendonca as acting CJ, they have had not meetings with Archie.
He told them the situation was untenable which could not be viewed as one which supports institutional strengthening, adding that “surely” the CJ, as head of the Judiciary, “can put aside his views in relation to the positions expressed concerning him” and “we can all commit to exercise restraint” and sit down to discuss issues affecting them.
In March, Seepersad sought permission to attend a training course in Germany, organised by the George Marshall Centre, from July 9-August 2. He told Archie in his seven years as a judge he had never been selected by the Judiciary to attend any training and had no listed trials during that time. He also said the course focused on constitutional implications.
Archie, in his reply, said without addressing how the US Government came to recommend a specific judge for participation in a course outside the judge’s area of expertise, or objection, he was passing the request to the President.
Weekes, in her letter to the CJ on Seepersad’s request for leave, dated April 1, said the invitation to the judge was “clearly personal” and the subject of the programme of interest to him.
She said she was not inclined to give her approval for leave outside the country unless it was approved by Archie as vacation leave pursuant to Regulation 6(2) of the Judges and Salaries and Pensions Act Chapter 6:02.
Judges have to get permission to travel outside the country, including during the court vacation.
According to the act, a judge may go abroad, outside of duty assignments, with the approval of the Chief Justice, but cannot be absent without the approval of the President.
Under the Act, judges are entitled to the “long vacation” period from August 1 to October 2, as well as Easter and Christmas and six weeks’ vacation, for a Justice of Appeal, and four weeks for a puisne judge, with six weeks in alternate years.
When a judge has to leave the country he or she has to apply to the President to leave the jurisdiction. This is done to ease the President’s concern that that judge’s absence does not affect the administration of justice, Newsday was told.
“The reason for this is simple. It is to make sure the President knows where the judges are.”
The issue of vacation leave outside the prescribed period for judges was raised last year when Archie applied the previous year for a six-month sabbatical in the US. After being told he could not take sabbatical, the CJ instead chose to use accrued vacation leave to “rest, reflect and study” in the US. He first left for vacation for six weeks in March, last year, but this was cut short because of his mother’s death and because he attended a few conferences during that time. The remaining days he took in June.
His leave had been approved by former president Anthony Carmona.
Last week, the issue of sabbatical for judges was decided on by Justice James Aboud who, in a statutory interpretation summons, ruled that judges were eligible to take sabbatical but was dependent on the development of administrative arrangements within the Judiciary.
Archie, in eventually denying Seepersad’s request for leave, told him it would be difficult for him to justify approving such an extended period of vacation leave to immediate precede
?? the August/September court vacation.
However, Seepersad told his colleagues that he was of the view that this development would have an impact on all of them.
“For the past seven years and notwithstanding the wording of Regulation 4, it was my understanding that once the Chief Justice approved a request to travel out of the jurisdiction during the term, that the President’s approval was a formality.”
He reminded them that in the past they discussed having Regulation 4 amended to remove the obligation of the President’s approval.
“Given Her Excellency’s view as to vacation leave, we need to consider whether there is a contradiction,” he said.
“In any event, this issue requires clarification as we should all clearly understand how and under what circumstances travel during the term may be allowed, how days are to be accounted for and whether we must now apply for vacation days for personal travel during the term.”