Letter: The information provided now raises more critical questions

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Dear Sir:

I note that the Honourable Chief Justice has promptly clarified that Justice of Appeal Allan Mendonca was responsible for the rostering of judges for the appeals in the election petitions.

Based upon the release issued I note that the panels were selected by Justice Mendonca “with the concurrence of the Chief Justice” and that the most senior judges were selected to preside because they were “weighty matters” of national importance.

I am grateful that this information has now been provided but concerned that the information provided now raises more critical questions.

Unfortunately, the release does not explain the inconsistency in the panel that was selected to hear the appeal in the petition of Bonifacio Mahabir for the constituency of La Horquetta/Talparo.

That panel did not comprise the three most senior judges in the Court of Appeal and was in fact heard and determined by a panel comprising the Honourable Chief Justice Mr Ivor Archie and Justices of Appeal Rajendra Narine and Judith Jones.

If the stated criteria were applied, by logical extension, the panel ought to have comprised the three “most senior judges” in the Court of Appeal who comprised the panel that dealt with the other matters namely, the Honourable Chief Justice Mr Ivor Archie and Justices of Appeal Allan Mendonca and Peter Jamadar. It cannot be that this appeal was of less national importance and significance than the others.

In any event, that Justice of Appeal Mendonca may have been responsible for rostering the panel with the concurrence of the Honourable Chief Justice does not address the fundamental and overriding concern raised. The critical issue is whether the Honourable Chief Justice disclosed to Justice Mendonca when it was proposed that he will sit as president of the court to chair the panel to hear and decide the election appeals that he may have a potential conflict of interest because he had recommended persons for subsidised state housing and was actively lobbying the government and the HDC for a favourable response.

It is unfortunate to say the least that the press release failed to confront this critical issue to alleviate the legitimate concern and fear about the risk of apparent bias. I expect that a conversation between the Honourable Chief Justice and the Prime Minister is a rare occurrence and would be easily recalled by the Honourable Chief Justice.

I therefore call upon the Honourable Chief Justice to clear the air and move with similar alacrity to clarify whether he did in fact disclose to Justice of Appeal Mendonca the nature, extent and reason for his personal contact with senior government officials at the HDC and the Honourable Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley with respect to his request for housing for individuals known to him.

This is a matter which in our respectful view, plainly ought to have been disclosed to his fellow-presiding judges (Justices of Appeal Mendonca and Jamadar, in the case of Dr Shevanand Gopeesingh and Justices of Appeal Rajendra Narine and Judith Jones, in the case of Bonafacio Mahabir) so that they could consider and discuss the issue and take the relevant steps to protect the integrity of the judicial process.

It was also necessary for the Chief Justice to make full and frank disclosure to the parties to the election petitions appeal so that they could seek details or further disclosure from him with a view to making an application for him to disqualify himself and not sit on the appeals.

This request for disclosure is a matter of grave national importance as the Chief Justice will be well aware. In the interest of transparency, accountability and maintaining public trust and confidence in the administration of justice the Honourable Chief Justice has a duty to make full and frank disclosure.

We therefore maintain and repeat our call for the Honourable Chief Justice to provide the requested details regarding the timing, nature and purpose of his communications with the Honourable Prime Minister and government officials at the HDC because of the risk of apparent bias.

Senator Gerald Ramdeen

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