Trinidad and Tobago
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Judge tells police: Pray for efficiency

Jada Loutoo File photo of police on patrol at Independence Square, Port of Spain. Photo by Ayanna Kinsale
File photo of police on patrol at Independence Square, Port of Spain. Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

A HIGH Court judge is suggesting the police service say some prayers for its efficiency after he made a wasted-costs order against the Police Commissioner for the failure of one of her senior officers to defend a lawsuit filed by UNC activist Victor Roberts.

Roberts is challenging the lawfulness of the commissioner’s decision to deny him a permit for a public march in December 2022.

On Wednesday, attorneys for the commissioner sought a further extension, to April 12, to file an affidavit from the acting superintendent of the Southern Division.

Attorney Delise Springer said the extension was needed since it was difficult to get final instructions from acting Supt Theodore-Persad because of her busy schedule.

In resisting the application, Roberts’s attorney Anand Beharrylal, KC, said nothing in the application gave an explanation other than that the police have “been so busy and the lawyers are unable to secure instructions.”

He said getting instructions could be done by video conference, so the police’s lawyers did not have to “travel up and down the highway” to comply with the previous court-ordered deadline of March 24.

Beharrylal said if an extension was to be granted, it should be no later than March 31 and asked for an “unless order.”

Seepersad gave the police until April 6 to file the affidavit. If they do not, they will not be able to rely on any at the trial. He also ordered the commissioner to pay “wasted costs” for Wednesday’s hearing.

The judge was also critical of the police’s failure to follow the court’s orders.

“This court deprecates this current trend…I have said it before and will say it again: from the moment a pre-action protocol letter is received, the matter should be flagged and all the relevant people need to start putting in place a position either on agreement or if it is contested.”

He said in the case of the latter, then the defence could not “sit back and wait” for a lawsuit to be filed.

“A proactive approach has to be taken…Start getting ready for ensuing litigation.”

He said in this case, it was unacceptable for the police to file their application on the last day the affidavit had to be filed, having already been granted a previous extension.

He said he was acutely aware of the multi-faceted functionsof first-division officers, but: “This court cannot wait on or be subjected to the convenience of the police…Every effort must be made to ensure orders must be complied with,” he said, adding that failure to do so, particularly by the police, would send the wrong message to the public and general litigants.

Seepersad also said his wasted-costs order was to register his disapproval of the police’s position.

“There have to be consequences that flow when orders of the court are not complied with.”

Roberts had previously received permission to pursue his judicial review application. In his lawsuit, he complained about the denial of the permit and the delay of the commissioner in making a decision and giving written reasons.

He is seeking several declarations and damages for breach of freedom of thought and expression, and freedom of association and assembly.

Roberts is also represented by attorneys Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon, Rhea Khan, Kavita Moonasar and Crystal Singh.