CCJ judge tries to sell VIP Carnival tickets
By NEWSDAY STAFF Monday, July 21 2014
A STAFF member of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was disciplined for refusing to sell complimentary VIP tickets on the instructions of a judge who was given them by the National Carnival Commission (NCC) to enable him and his wife to view shows at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
This is one of the incidents cited in a document prepared by former Acting Registrar of the CCJ Dr Leighton Jackson, reflecting the depth to which the institution has sunk, in which he concludes, the regional institution headquartered in Port-of-Spain is out of control and careful structures put in place are being systematically dismantled. Newsday has obtained a copy of the document.
Although he does not dilate on the Carnival incident, Newsday has been informed that the NCC routinely provides Judges of the CCJ with complimentary tickets to occupy a VIP booth that is made available to the Chief Justice in the Grand Stand of the Queen’s Park Savannah to attend shows within the purview of the national Carnival body. Similar booths are occupied by the President, Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers and other dignitaries.
Newsday understands a particular CCJ judge who did not surrender his tickets upon entry at the Grand Stand for a show during Carnival 2013, ordered his driver to canvass sale of the premium complimentary tickets on the open market. Sources told Newsday when the driver refused, considering this unethical, he was rebuked by the judge and relieved of his duty as chauffeur.
Newsday was also informed that not only has the driver been “floating” at the CCJ since the incident, but the particular judge has been given US$1,300 a month by the CCJ to hire another driver since then.
This was instituted despite objections from the Court Executive Administrator (CEA) and the Court’s Registrar as wrongful utilisation of the Trust Fund from Caribbean Governments which funds operations of the CCJ.
Jackson’s analysis paints a woeful picture of the CCJ which has been lobbying steadfastly for full recognition by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago as this country’s final court of appeal. Although the court is based in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago is one of the many Caribbean countries yet to endorse the CCJ as their final appellate court. The territories still turn to the Privy Council in London for that function.
CCJ operating in secrecy
Jackson accuses the Court in Port-of-Spain of operating in secrecy, violating staff regulations relating to changes in job description and standards of good industrial relations under the industrial relations act, relying on outside consultants to the detriment of existing staff, and creating a parallel administration with the Regional Judicial Legal Services Commission (RJLSC) and judges committees taking over administrative functions from administrators.
Jackson points out from an address by former CCJ president, Michael de la Bastide, “Much effort has been expended in ensuring the independence of the Court.” By article V of the Agreement the Judges of the Court are appointed by the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission (RJLSC).
No member of that body is a politician. By paragraph 12 of Article V members of the Commission must “neither seek nor receive instructions from any body or person external to the Commission.”
Jackson notes there have been several suspensions and even constructive dismissals in a number of key management areas recently, including such positions as CEA, Registrar and Deputy Registrar, and Facilitators Manager. He feels that there is a plan afoot to “rid” the CCJ of senior staff appointed under former president de la Bastide. Jackson himself, who was acting registrar of the CCJ in Port-of-Spain, claims to have been constructively dismissed from his post and is now back in Jamaica to resume his substantive position of Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies at Mona.
Jackson says the president has no power to discipline staff at that level. This is the role of the RJLSC.
Jackson claims appointments have been “handpicked” and he was critical of the recent hiring by the CCJ of a registrar whom he says does not have the minimum years of practice to qualify for the position.
According to Jackson, in terms of the “dismissal” of the CEA, it was the President of the Court who negotiated her eight months’ leave and eventual “voluntary retirement”, the circumstance of which he claims is the subject of a gag order.
“This is ultra vires the power of the President and is in fact the function of the Commission under the Agreement setting
up the Court,” Jackson points out.
“He has no business ‘negotiating’ the dismissal of an employee of the court as well as the terms and conditions of that dismissal. The Commission has become a mere rubber stamp.”
Jackson adds that the same took place in relation to his dismissal as Acting Registrar who was appointed by the Commission and could only be dismissed by the Commission. “Yet the President took it upon himself to suspend the Acting Registrar. This is ultra vires,” Jackson says, and in as much as the Commission is allowing him to do so, it is guilty of dereliction of duty.”
In the last bout, Jackson relates the president has suspended the Financial Comptroller for, according to him, failing to obey his directive to attend a meeting.
Jackson points out that the Financial Comptroller is a senior member of staff and
occupies a very sensitive position.
Accordingly suspending him is in violation not only of the Staff Regulations which RJLSC has approved governing the disciplinary procedure but also it is ultra vires the power of the president and every concept of due process.
“Here the president is the complainant — refusal to obey his orders, the prosecutor and the judge. This is unacceptable by any modern standard,” Jackson says.
The situation also seems headed for Court because staff members have retained attorneys to act on their behalf, some are said to be actually drafting lawsuits. Employees have also been signing up with a local Trade Union to represent them.