Attorney Jagdeo Singh has challenged Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi to personally argue the State's appeal of the ruling on the Sedition Act.
On Monday, High Court judge Justice Frank Seepersad ruled that sections 3 and 4 of the Act, infringed on the right of citizens to freedom of thought and expression, the right to join political parties and express political views, and the right of freedom of the press. These principles, the judge said, are rights which are tenets of a sovereign democratic state.
Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) secretary general Satnarayan Maharaj filed the challenge last May on behalf of his television and radio station, Jaagriti and the parent company – Central Broadcasting Services Ltd. But before judgment was given, Maharaj died on November 16, after suffering a stroke. He was 88.
Maharaj filed the lawsuit after police executed search warrants on the radio and TV station’s compound in Tunapuna and took recordings of the Maha Sabha Strikes Back television programme from April 15. The search happened days after a video clip of Maharaj making disparaging comments about Tobagonians went viral on social media.
Singh, one of the attorneys for Central Broadcasting Services, responded to Al-Rawi's announcement of the State appealing Justice Seepersad's ruling at a media conference on Friday at Lakshmi Girls' Hindu College in St Augustine.
PUT ON YOUR ROBES
"You are the titular head of the bar. You are entitled to the rank of senior counsel. Here's what we would like to see – since you are so full of belief of the appraisal of this Act and your belief in the necessity of this Act, don't seek refuge behind the silk gown of a senior counsel. Put on your robes Mr Attorney General! Come to the Court of Appeal, sit in the front bench and argue this appeal yourself," Singh charged.
He advised Al-Rawi to don his robes in the great tradition of the bar and all previous attorneys general including Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, who led Maharaj's successful legal challenge against the Sedition Act. Former attorneys general Anand Ramlogan and John Jeremie both personally advocated for the State while in the position.
Ramlogan advocated in the Section 34 matter and Jeremie personally went the attorneys general of Barbados and Jamaica to the Privy Council seeking reinstatement of the death penalty for murder in the case of Charles Matthews.
Singh also responded to two statements Al-Rawi made at a previous media conference in defence of the preservation of the Sedition Act. He said that while the AG said the Act was saved because of the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), this ignored the fact that a citizen is entitled not to be investigated based on an invalid law.
Singh added that while the DPP has independence, he is a state functionary of the executive and the Act is so subjective and vague that it would cause subject judgement by the DPP. "The notion that the Act should be saved by the constitutional role of the DPP should be debunked and rejected," Singh said.
He also responded to Al-Rawi citing the 1990 attempted coup as reason for retention of the Sedition Act. Singh pointed out that following the attempted coup, no one was charged for sedition and there are clear laws to address this type of situation including treason and murder.
DON'T ATTACK JUDGE
He said nothing prevents the AG from convening Parliament to pass a law on hate speech. He slammed Al-Rawi's description of Seepersad's ruling as "dangerous".
"But do not criticise a judge and use offensive and inflammatory remarks to bring the administration of justice into disrepute. Because what you are doing, Mr Attorney General, is that you are undermining public confidence in the administration of justice in a society such as TT where there are clear and deep-seated divisions the one institution the public looks up to is the court.
"You cannot for unjustified reasons openly attack a judge to say that the judge is delivering a dangerous judgment. It is nothing more than a scandalous attack on the administration of justice And I would urge the Attorney General to be more tempered in the use of his language."
Maharaj was also in attendance and said Al-Rawi's statement that the ruling was an extremely dangerous judgment was "misconceived" and there was no basis for him saying that.
"With the greatest respect to him, the statements which he has made are very dangerous and I would ask him to withdraw them. Because it is very dangerous to accuse a judge of giving a dangerous statement." He questioned whether the AG wanted the judge to close his eyes to the established principles of law.
He said he regarded the case as his professional duty and a duty to the people of TT, Satnarayan Maharaj and the SDMS. Maharaj also said he welcomed and would enjoy any appeal by the AG to the Court of Appeal and to the Privy Council.
"If the Government of TT believes it can take action to preserve an archaic law that takes away the rights of individuals, which adversely affects the freedom of the press, which curtails the freedom of speech, and which can cause persons to be arrested and prosecuted without any proper basis, the Government and the Attorney General can pursue that. The Government will do its duty and I will do my duty. And I have no doubt whatsoever that at the end of the day the SDMS and the people of TT will be victorious in this case at any level it goes to." Multiple attempts to contact Al-Rawi on Friday were unsuccessful.