A HIGH COURT judge is seeking answers on the promotion process for elevation to the Court of Appeal.
Outspoken judge, Justice Frank Seepersad has hired a queen’s counsel to represent him as he seeks answers from the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) on the appointment process and his own application.
Seepersad applied and was interviewed on October 16, 2019. In his application, he said he read that eight of the 20 judges who applied met the criteria for elevation to the appellate court.
On January 28, he wrote to the JLSC for information and was told to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Seepersad hired British QC Anand Beharrylal who made the request on the judge’s behalf on March 12.
Last Thursday, the acting director of personnel administration wrote to Beharrylal informing him that the judge’s request for access to official documents was received.
Beharrylal was also told that the information asked for was being complied so that it can be sent to the JLSC for its consideration.
“A response would be issued to you, in as much as possible, within the prescribed time frame,” the attorney was told.
Seepersad wants the total score he received and those of the other candidates, for each response, from the four members of the commission who conducted the interviews.
He also wants the identity of each member of the interview panel; a breakdown of marks for the judgements supplied; the complete, and unedited, copy of the merit list with the name of each applicant and scores awarded by each member of the panel; the criteria for appointment and any additional criteria used and the minutes, or any record, of the discussion deliberation when the decision was taken on applicants for the position.
In his letter in January, Seepersad said he was not called on to undergo psychometric testing and said the information he wanted was for his “future development” and to “dispel any notion that there may have been any deliberate attempt to apply the ‘law of averages’ so as to ensure that only the preferred applicants were elevated.”
He said he accurately recalled his responses during the interview and “evidently they fell short of the members’ expectations so I expect I would have received low to medium scores from each member as opposed to a circumstance where there was any significant disparity between the individual scores received.”
In the freedom of information request, Beharrylal said his client was entitled to receive the information as disclosure was “justified in the interest of transparency and the promotion of a culture of meritocracy.”
He also said it has been observed in the TT courts that “an interviewer who is concerned about and/or resists public scrutiny may be ill-suited to serve on the interview panel.”
Beharrylal said the release of the information will seek to “enhance and inspire public confidence in the administration of justice and is of fundamental importance in relation to the constitutional role of the JLSC.”
“Disclosures and public scrutiny of the selection process is a deterrent to sub or unconscious bias, unfairness and victimisation,” the request said.
“Indeed, it is uncontroversial that if interviewers know that their evaluation and scoring can be reviewed and scrutinised and any unjustified or disproportionately low score can be exposed or criticised, this will be conducive to the principles of transparency, equality and fairness,” it added.
Beharrylal said even if the information was considered exempt under the FOIA, it should still be disclosed as his client “firmly believes that transparency and accountability, as it relates to the appointment and elevation of judges, is mandatory if the level of trust and confidence which citizens depose in the Judiciary and administration of justice is to improve.”
The request asked that the information be provided in 30 days, failing which an application for judicial review will be made.