AN “exchange” between the Judiciary and the Law Association on the state of the San Fernando courthouse “cannot be reasonably interpreted as consultation on the closure” of the court with the Law Association, president of the statutorily recognised representative body for lawyers in TT has said.
On August 30, the association’s president, Lynette Seebaran-Suite, SC, responded to a query by the president of the Assembly of Southern Lawyers (ASL), Michael Rooplal, on an assertion by the Judiciary that it consulted with LATT on the temporary closure of the Supreme Court in San Fernando.
The exchange of letters between the two followed a brief statement from the Judiciary on a report published in Newsday’s edition on August 28 of concerns raised by ASL to the temporary closure of the southern court building in a letter to Chief Justice Ivor Archie.
The Judiciary said it was surprised by the Newsday article as it had held discussions on the state of court buildings and the closure of the San Fernando Supreme Court building with LATT “the statutorily recognised representative body for lawyers in TT.”
Rooplal wrote to LATT on August 30 asking for clarification on the consultation that took place since it gave the impression that attorneys were not told of the discussions.
“It also insinuates that the Council of the LATT may not be seeking the best interests of its members, particularly those in San Fernando. The Assembly of Southern Lawyers has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the LATT over the years, and said the relationship has been premised on our mutual objectives to safeguard the interests of our members and to promote the effective and efficient administration of justice.”
In her response to Rooplal, the association said its senior members met with the CJ and his team on July 19 and among the topics raised were access to justice and the unsatisfactory state of various court buildings. She said during a general discussion, the association was told that the Judiciary was consulting with Udecott on the leaking at the San Fernando court house and there was an intention to tender out for repair of the building.
She also said in answer to a question about alternative accommodation, the association was told of an intention to use the Princes Town and O’Meara Courts.
“This exchange cannot be reasonably interpreted as consultation on the closure of the San Fernando Court with LATT, as neither firm plans nor timelines were shared with LATT in advance (or at the meeting) so that we could have formulated a response, including consultation with your good selves.
“Rest assured of our continued commitment to our longstanding relationship with your organisation and to promoting the interests of all our members including those in the southern municipalities and boroughs.”
Seebaran-Suite also said the council was considering if there was a need for a public response to the Judiciary’s press release or whether an explanatory e-mail should be sent to their members.
In his letter to the CJ, Rooplal said his association’s members were concerned about the temporary closure of the San Fernando court building and wanted answers. Some of the questions raised included an update on the expected timeframe for the completion of the upgrades; how jury trials, fixed for hearing would proceed; and how in-person civil trials were expected to take place.
In a second release, dated August 29, the Judiciary answered some of the questions.
It said enquiries were made by judges and lawyers about the use of the Princes Town court building for civil trials.
However, it said there were only five courtrooms there not reserved for Family Court and priority was being given to High Court criminal and district court (magisterial) court matters for in-person hearings and those rooms were already over-subscribed.
It further advised, “If a civil division judge insists on having an in-person hearing or trial, they have been advised to reserve one of the courtrooms in Tower D at the Waterfront Judicial Centre (Port of Spain).”
It also urged the use of virtual hearings where possible as civil courts have been doing so for over 15 years.
“The Chief Justice has noted that as our physical resources are finite, we have to come to terms with the fact that our personal preferences cannot always be accommodated and has expressed every confidence that reason and good sense will prevail.
“He thanks everyone for their understanding and cooperation. The Chief Justice has also so advised the judges and masters of the civil division accordingly.”