OUTSPOKEN judge Carol Gobin has defended her rulings in the TT Football Association’s legal challenge to Chief Justice Ivor Archie, writing to him expressing her concern over “gratuitous observations” he and another Appeal Court judge made in their ruling on the FIFA appeal.
On Wednesday, Gobin reminded Archie of what he said of her in the decision delivered on Friday. In it, Archie and Justice of Appeal Nolan Bereaux quashed two of her previous decisions, which had given victory to the TT Football Association.
The judges gave a unified decision, but each had something to say. Archie dedicated one and a half pages to Gobin's managing of the case, and in the remaining 20 pages, Bereaux focused on arguments advanced in FIFA's appeal.
In her letter, Gobin addressed some of the comments. “I believe it was Justice Linda Dobbs who said that ‘fairness is in the DNA of judges,’ and I am sure that we would all like to think so.
“You would therefore understand, Chief Justice, why I must raise my concerns about the ‘observations’ and guidance you gave in the very short judgment you delivered.” Archie had criticised Gobin’s “less than prudent case management and uneconomical deployment of judicial time and resources.”
By doing so, Gobin said, the CJ formulated “new guidance” and that “zeal is to be commended but it should not obscure the need for caution. “The import of the statement was not lost. In ordering TTFA to pay the costs of it, Bereaux JA, described it as 'a wasted trial,'” Gobin pointed out.
She said the "gratuitous observations" raised by the CJ and Justice Bereaux were not ever raised by the parties involved during the appeal.
“FIFA filed no application for a stay of my default trial directions, and TTFA had agreed that the trial should proceed. I believe that these unwarranted statements (by the CJ) reflect negatively on my competence as a judge, though I am sure that was not what you intended,” Gobin told Archie.
She also noted that “quite remarkably,” the comments were made without reference to her reasons for proceeding with the case in the way she did.
“The Court of Appeal, on the basis only of the calendar it would seem, concluded that it would have been wiser to have waited for just a few days for the outcome of FIFA’s appeal, to save precious judicial time. This is against the background of FIFA’s declaration to the world, that the appeal was filed ‘as a formal step’ and that even then it did not recognise the jurisdiction of our local courts,” she pointed out.
Gobin told Archie she did not need to remind him there was more to the management of cases than fixing timetables.
“First instance judges often have to remind litigants and lawyers of the significance of what we do. A judge who refuses to defer to a defendant whose conduct is unlawful, intimidatory, deliberately contemptuous, is not being overzealous.
“Such a judge is only doing what the oath of office requires .The authority of our courts is the foundation of our justice system. How we respond in the face of a patent attempt to undermine and deride it, ultimately defines our judiciary,” she said.
She noted it was clear that “for some reason and somewhere along the line,” after the trial, FIFA changed its position on recognising the jurisdiction of the local courts.
“Because of that, your judicial time was well deployed but no one could reasonably suggest that I should have allowed a possibility of FIFA’s vacillation to dictate the pace at which I discharged my duty in the High Court,” she said.
On the criticisms by the appellate court about the “waste of time on the trial,” Gobin said she did not consider her judicial time wasted on an undefended trial for default judgment on affidavits.
"There is nothing unusual about default trials where declaratory relief is sought. In the end the TTFA had the hearing it was entitled to for all of an hour and a half. FIFA chose not to participate. My docket remained well under control. No other matter suffered for want of my attention.
“The outcome of the appeal has caused me no regret.
"I respect the ruling of the Court of Appeal,” she added, as she urged Archie to look back at a 2012 JEI distinguished lecture by Justice Adrian Saunders, now president of the Caribbean Court of Justice, and his advice "as to the need to reverse respectfully for the maintenance of public confidence in the system.
“I end by seeking clarification on the guidance that first instance judges are now mandated to follow, because quite frankly I do not see myself doing anything differently if this were to arise at any time in the future,” she said adamantly.
Her three-page letter was also sent by e-mail to Bereaux and other judges.
In the days following the Appeal Court ruling, TTFA president William Wallace withdrew its appeal of FIFA’s suspension of TT from international football before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland.
The withdrawal followed Sunday’s extraordinary general meeting, at which the majority of the TTFA membership voted to accept the normalisation committee appointed by FIFA in March because of “massive debt” and financial woes plaguing the local football body. It also gave the TTFA an ultimatum in September: comply with its obligations as a FIFA member, by recognising the legitimacy of the committee.
FIFA has been informed of TTFA’s recognition of the committee. TT’s suspension must be lifted by December 18, for TT to compete in upcoming international competitions.