Judiciary: We are not overriding Prime Minister’s directive to public servants

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this 2019 file photo, Chief Justice Ivor Archie, Justice of Appeal Allan Mendonca, and Dr Barry Ishmael, administrative secretary to the CJ are among members of the judiciary who walk from Trinity Cathedral to the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain during the ceremonial opening of the law term. –

The Prime Minister did not issue a directive to the Judiciary, nor did the Judiciary at any time think that he did, when he announced on Friday a full reopening of the public service.

The Judiciary clarified this on Monday with regard to the return-to-work directive to public servants.

It said it will now work out its work arrangements for staff and court users, and was unable to make any adjustments in time for March 7.

“Staff were simply advised to continue to work as they have been doing and await further instructions.

“…The operations of the Judiciary require appropriate planning,” it said in its statement on Monday.

The statement sought to clarify what it said was a misconception of a directive to staff to continue with their existing work arrangements until they hear of any change from their supervisors.

Currently, staff at the Judiciary work on an alternate-day roster.

The announcement to staff on Friday followed Dr Rowley’s statement in Parliament that public servants would all return to work from Monday.

Judiciary staff were told whether they work remotely from home or in office, or a mix of the two, on Monday their arrangements remained the same until further advised.

This notice to staff led to two judges opposing the move. It also led to a flurry of e-mails between the judges and Chief Justice Ivor Archie up to Sunday.

In Monday’s statement, the Judiciary said when the Prime Minister made his announcement on Friday, he did as he was required to do for the functioning of the Executive.

“And, the Judiciary will now determine how it must function.”

The statement said this will be conveyed in the forms of rules of court, practice directions, or both.

“The requisite practice direction would have had to be prepared and in-depth administrative arrangements made.

“The issue was not only about staff going to courthouses but about the wide range of Judiciary stakeholders who would be affected by any decision taken.”

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, court operations have been adjusted in response to the pandemic and the public health regulations. Access to courthouses was restricted to matters deemed urgent and jury trials were suspended.

In its statement, the Judiciary said it has always taken the national environment into consideration and crafted its practice directions and court rules so as to take into account health or other measures effected by the Executive, while ensuring that considerations unique to the Judiciary and its operations are addressed. It said the Judiciary wais going through the same process on this occasion.

“The Prime Minister has stated that the country is about to transition from strategies to handle covid19 as a pandemic to those required to see it as endemic.

“…The Prime Minister did not issue a directive to the Judiciary nor did the Judiciary at any time think that he did.

“There is clear separation between the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary which the heads of these arms of the State are aware of and observe and no directive was given to the latter,” the statement clarified.

It said contrary to the misconception that the Judiciary was overriding the PM’s directive that all public servants should return to work, the issue was not only about staff going to courthouses “but about the wide range of Judiciary stakeholders who would be affected by any decision taken.”

Over the last six months, the Judiciary has had 1,148 staff members quarantined, with 54 still in quarantine up to last week and 26 covid19 cases being monitored. There have been six deaths.