OPPOSITION Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial has commended High Court judge Betsy Ann Lambert-Peterson for recusing herself from hearing the challenge of the constitutionality of the TT Revenue Authority Act (TTRA) and the operationalisation of several portions of it.
Lambert-Peterson was presiding over the claim filed by customs officer Terrisa Dhoray who alleges that the TTRA Act has given the government political control over the authority and that the law facilitates and allows undue political influence and interference with the authority’s management.
However, Dhoray felt there was the possibility of unconscious and sub-conscious bias because of Lambert-Peterson's husband, Gilbert Peterson, SC.
Initially, she refused to recuse herself and said she has no political connections.
On Thursday, she eventually stepped down and said she was not prepared to have the administration of justice trampled on nor did she intend to be a party to it by trying to persuade anyone she will be impartial or unbiased in the case.
“This court will not be prepared to sit in judgment of its own behaviour. This court will recuse itself from further hearing of the matter.”
Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Lutchmedial said she knows the PNM will continue to "try to scandalise the Opposition" for this.
Dhoray is being represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC and Lutchmedial, among others.
Lutchmedial said if an attorney's client feels like there may be bias, they are within their rights to raise this concern.
She said while she has "no doubt" Lambert-Peterson could be impartial, "Justice must not only be done but seen to be done."
"I want to congratulate madam Justice Lambert-Peterson for making the right decision in this matter. I believe she did the right thing by recusing herself."
Lutchmedial said the Judiciary usually operated in a "very cloistered way," but recent revelations about connections judges had was bringing the Judiciary under scrutiny.
"It is unwise and it is harmful to the administration of justice."
She said there's no need to get defensive about incidents like this as the confidence in the Judiciary needs to be upheld.
"Whilst we don't particularly enforce any sort of rules for reporting and disclosure by judicial officers, maybe we have to take a closer look at it..."
She said judicial officers should at least disclose whether their family has any political ties.
"She did the right thing. Having heard submissions from both sides, she has adopted the correct approach."
Also on Thursday, another judge, Justice of Appeal Maria Wilson, also stepped down from an appeal on Estate Management Business Development Company Ltd’s multi-million-dollar cartel claim involving a group of contractors and former UNC minister, Dr Roodal Moonilal.
She said it was "imperative" she recused herself from the case to ensure the impartiality and independence of the panel of judges of which she was a member. The panel also included Justices of Appeal Nolan Bereaux and Mark Mohammed.
She first announced her decision last Monday, after she explained brother, attorney Fulton Wilson, was a member of the EMBD board from December 2015-January 2021. His tenure spanned the entire life of the case from the filing of the case.
Wilson said she believed the information she received from her brother affected her ability to continue on the panel. She also admitted she was “totally shocked by this revelation.”
“Despite my willingness to continue, it is pellucid to me there is an imperative to ensure justice is not only done but seen to be done.”
On Thursday, she said while her brother was a board member, it could be assumed he had an interest in the case and although he was no longer one, it could still be assumed he continued to have an interest.
She said his interest could be perceived as her bias.
Wilson said she voluntarily decided to step aside from the appeal. She said it was a “self-recusal.” Wilson said she was aware of the oath she took as a judge and could sit on the appeal with independence and impartiality.
“That is not an issue.” She said the test to be applied was whether the fair-minded observer could conclude there was a real possibility of bias.
She said judges had to do a balancing exercise when considering a recusal. On one side, they had to maintain the appearance of impartiality while they also had to sit on cases assigned to them and only refuse to do so for good reason.