WE WELCOME media reports suggesting an end to the impasse between Chief Justice Ivor Archie and High Court judge Justice Carol Gobin in relation to the latter taking up of an appointment to open a Tobago wing of the Family Court.
The reports suggest something of a detente between both parties in relation to this matter, but we hope it also bodes well for the future resolution of conflict among members of the legal fraternity, senior or otherwise.
It’s important to acknowledge that in any mature democracy, individuals must be free to raise their voices and to criticise those who hold positions of trust and power. Without such a process of ventilation, our institutions revert to a state of having no transparency and accountability.
But while the judiciary is no sacred cow, the long-simmering standoff between Archie and Gobin has done the Supreme Court a disservice. In the case of the spat over the Family Court, it threatened to eclipse an important development within the judiciary’s roster of services.
On an even deeper level, the confrontation did what previous confrontations between both figures and others achieved: it created an aura of hostility around an institution that must be seen to be sober and intemperate if its exercise of power is to have authority. One hopes, therefore, that more has been resolved than simply the matter of the Tobago posting.
A closed-door meeting reportedly took place between Gobin and Archie. Newsday was told that each agreed to consider the other’s concerns. Gobin will launch the Family Court in Tobago and will serve that court until December, but it was agreed she will continue to function as a senior judge in the civil jurisdiction where she will manage her docket of cases. As a senior judge in the civil jurisdiction, Gobin is currently adjudicating on a number of complex civil trials.
The judiciary has a history of botched appointments and in this instance we feel it is important for Gobin to be able to manage any outstanding civil cases that might have been left pending had she been completely reassigned. It is also preferable for the Chief Justice to be given adequate time to recruit a replacement for Gobin in Tobago come January 2020.
At the same time, it is not ideal to have a judge stretched between two jobs. However, in the context of a situation in which there are shortages all around, the wearing of multiple hats may well be unavoidable. Gobin’s assignment is, as such, an important test for how future assignments can be handled. It is hoped the trial period will be a successful one in which Tobago citizens have access to the justice they deserve.