Judges left out of Panday’s state funeral

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Members of the Defence Force carry the body of former prime minister the late Basdeo Panday to the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts, San Fernando where it lay in state on January 8. – Lincoln Holder

JUDGES of the Supreme Court have, again, been left out of a state event because of space.

On January 8, a handful of judges Newsday spoke with said they were not formally invited to the state funeral of former prime minister the late Basdeo Panday.

One judge said it was tradition for judges of the Supreme Court, as the third arm of the State, to be invited to state functions.

“It is important that all arms of State are represented and (this) sets a bad precedent…And is of concern.”

Another judge said enquiries were made but they were told no invitations were sent by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – which is organising the state funeral – to the Judiciary, although chairmen of service commissions, alderman and councillors have received invitations.

“As an arm of State, judges should take high precedence when state functions are held but over the last few years there has been a constant diminution of the status which should be afforded to the office of judge.

“Judges were previously invited to the state funerals of former presidents George Maxwell Richards and Arthur NR Robinson and former prime minister Patrick Manning.

“Over the last year, judges were excluded from the national awards ceremony and so this snub is no surprise.

“A clear signal is being sent that judges are mere public servants who are of no moment. The disrespect is direct and the silence of the Chief Justice is deafening.”

Questions were sent to the Judiciary, the Foreign Affairs Ministry as well as minister Amery Browne. In response, Browne said, “The site selected by the Panday family (SAPA) has limited seating. The Chief Justice, the head of the Justices of Appeal, and the head of the Judges of the High Court have been invited.”

Court protocol and information manager Carl Francis told Newsday the “question is best posed to the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs, That ministry issued all invitations.”

At the Republic Day awards in September 2023, it was said there was no room at President’s House for judges at the national awards ceremony.

At the time, the judges Newsday spoke with expressed surprise at not being invited. They were also not invited to the opening of Parliament in September 2023.

On September 11, only Appeal Court judges were invited to the ceremonial opening of 12th Parliament. High Court judges were not invited. They were also not invited to 2022’s opening on September 12, 2022, “due to reasons of space.”

Of concern to the judges is an “evident plan” to destroy the status of their office “and a determination to treat judges as public servants.

“Perhaps, soon they will issue policy directives on how matters should be determined.”

“The Supreme Court is an arm of the State. “There is no distinction that says only the Court of Appeal is to represent the Supreme Court at state events.”

Again, those judges Newsday spoke with pointed to the table of precedence, or official protocol list where judges of the High Court followed members of the Executive and Legislature, high commissioners and ambassadors, the president of the Caribbean Court of Justice and Appeal Court judges.

There are 14 Court of Appeal judges, not including the Chief Justice and 44 High Court judges.

Panday died on January 1. His state funeral will be held on January 9 at the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts (SAPA) in San Fernando.