Judge: Minister’s statement undermines Judiciary

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds. – ROGER JACOB

NATIONAL Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds on Wednesday opted not to accept an invitation to attend a court hearing to clarify his comment that criminals have friends in the judiciary.

Speaking at the beginning of a hearing involving licensed gun dealer Brent Thomas, High Court judge Devindra Rampersad noted Hinds’s absence, saying he had sought clarification that was not granted, and that Hinds’s comments had the potential to undermine the integrity of the Judiciary.

Thomas sued the State over a breach of his constitutional rights and criminal charges. On April 25 Rampersad ruled in his favour and severely criticised the conduct of the investigating officers, who were assigned to the police Professional Standards Bureau.

The judge found that Thomas had been “abducted” from Barbados and brought back to Trinidad and Tobago to face charges. Rampersad permanently stayed the seven criminal charges against Thomas of being in possession of grenades and automatic rifles, all prohibited by the Firearms Act.

In an address to the nation on state-owned TTT on May 1, Hinds commented on Rampersad’s ruling, saying criminals have friends in the Judiciary, police, customs and elsewhere.

“The comment does not impact on me only, but the other 110 judicial officers,” Rampersad said on Wednesday, adding that while the Judiciary is not immune to criticism, when an officer of the court does it (Hinds is a lawyer by profession), it jeopardises the Judiciary.

He said the statement implied that the integrity of the Judiciary is compromised by illegality, which is “very damning and absolutely wrong.”

With no clarification, Hinds’ statement, Rampersad said, left a cloud of illegality over the Judiciary which, drop by drop, undermined it.

“The damning effect of leaving that cloud is that the drops will turn into torrents, which will lead to flooding, then to unimaginable damage. The view of young people looking on will be that anyone can say anything with no regard to the truth, without consequences,” Rampersad said.

He described Hinds’s unchecked statement as a source of comfort to criminality that many in the country now decry.

Rampersad said he has gone as far as he could go with the matter, which he found “very serious,” but will send his statement to the Law Association for its deliberation.

While Hinds had no obligation to accept the invitation, Rampersad said as an officer of the court, he sought clarity from the minister and was left in doubt.