Judge defends judge after Prime Minister's criticisms

Justice Frank Seepersad -
Justice Frank Seepersad -

A SENIOR High Court judge has defended a colleague amidst criticisms from the Prime Minister on statements made in a ruling over delays by Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher in deciding on Firearm User’s Licence (FUL) applications.

On March 25, Justice Frank Seepersad issued a stinging rebuke of the explanations given to the court in the commissioner’s defence to the lawsuit over a Tobago businessman's seven-year wait for an FUL.

On March 26, Dr Rowley said Seepersad went “overboard” with his criticisms of the commissioner. It is not the first time a judge has been chastised by a politician. In May 2023, the Judiciary condemned a statement alleging criminals had friends in the Judiciary. Seepersad also previously criticised the questioning of his visit to the Port of Spain prison in a case in April 2023.

Days after the Prime Minister’s statements, Seepersad was again defended by a colleague.

“The courts are inundated with applications for judicial review based on the Commissioner's failure to make decisions relative to FULs.

“The decision vests with the commissioner under section 17 of the Firearms Act. The Executive plays no role in the process.”

The judge pointed out that the State, through the Office of the Attorney General, was not involved in the case before Seepersad.

"It is therefore odd and inappropriate for the Prime Minister to attack the judge and he is not in a position to say that the judge went a ' bit overboard'.

“It is clear when one reads the judgment that the judge simply suggested a policy review based on the prevailing societal state and there was no usurping of the role vested in the Executive and the Parliament.”

In his ruling, Seepersad said, “It is simply outrageous that a sitting commissioner would elect to adopt a, “Well I have plenty work to do” stance, in defence of the delay which has transpired in this case.

“To suggest that one core function is more important than another is a classic “cop-out” stance which does not instil any confidence as to the office holder’s capacity or capability to discharge the required statutory obligations,” he added.

Written submissions on behalf of the commissioner had noted that it was “unfathomable to expect that the intended defendant spends her days rendering decisions on FUL applications having regard to the plethora of issues within the ambit of her position, such as the crime rate inclusive of gun-related violence, as well as managing the human and financial resources of the service.”

Various tables were provided to outline the commissioner’s duties.

“Notwithstanding the plethora of duties, the intended defendant must be very meticulous in making

determinations on FUL applications.

“... Suffice to say, the obligations of the intended defendant are vast and each of grave importance as they directly impact the safety of each individual within the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. “The intended defendant is constitutionally bound to ensure that the TTPS is effectively and efficiently managed to ensure public safety can be maintained and enhanced.

“Given the crime rate within Trinidad and Tobago, it is understood that these duties come with even more urgency

“The TTPS is first and foremost charged with the protection of citizens within Trinidad and Tobago and as such, any and all duties which touch and concern same will take precedence.

“... In light of the foregoing, it is submitted that the volume of matters before the intended defendant daily is a high one.

“As such, great consideration should be given to the intended defendant relative to some of her other duties, which directly affect public safety.”

Commenting on the case, Rowley said the “excuses” attributed to Harewood-Christopher were presented by a member of her legal team and not her directly.

“I have been taken to court on many occasions as Prime Minister. Nobody is going to court representing me on any affidavit unless I know what is being said there,” he said.

He also pointed out that the case demonstrated the need for the State to have competent legal representatives.

“There are such serious implications that the Government must always be represented by proper high-level, competent lawyers. Some other lawyers who make the court a business of knocking the Government down are quite happy when a lawyer could settle an affidavit like that and go and tell the court what you just read out there,” Rowley said.

Rowley said the judges did not have the power to make national policy including on firearms.

“Activist judges who speak as though they could make the policy and guide public servants what to do, I am saying that the Government’s policy ought to be respected. The Government has no policy to arm the population like Gary Griffith has been doing and advocating in the political arena. A PNM Government has a different approach,” he said.


"Judge defends judge after Prime Minister’s criticisms"

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