Appeal Court judges leave the Red House on September 11 after attending the ceremonial opening of Parliament. – ROGER JACOB
THERE is no room for Supreme Court judges at this evening’s Republic Day national awards ceremony at President’s House.
Judges are usually among the dignitaries invited to the prestigious ceremony which recognises citizens who have given distinguished service to TT.
Newsday spoke with a handful of judges who expressed “surprise” at not being invited to this year’s national awards at President’s House.
“It appears we were ‘uninvited’ from the opening of Parliament and now we are ‘uninvited from the national awards.”
A couple of Court of Appeal judges said they, too, did not receive an invitation for Sunday’s ceremony.
Some of the judges said they attended the national awards, or if they did not, were at least invited when it was previously held on Independence Day. When it moved to Republic Day in 2017, they said, “we were still invited” save for 2020 and 2021 owing to the pandemic.
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 at last year’s opening on September 12, 2022, “due to reasons of space.”
“Apparently, none of the High Court judges were invited to the Parliament opening. That is a break in years of ceremony and tradition,” Newsday was told.
This year, those Newsday spoke with say it is becoming apparent there is an “evident plan” to destroy the status of their office.
“The Supreme Court is an arm of the State. Only judges of the Court of Appeal were invited for the opening of Parliament. How can space be an issue?
“There is no distinction that says only the Court of Appeal is to represent the Supreme Court at state events.”
Another judge said the National Awards was a significant milestone so too the the honour of receiving of such an award in the presence of all arms of state – the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary.
“It appears that judges are being relegated into the realm of insignificance.”
They also want to know why the Chief Justice is silent on this “indignity.”
“The Chief Justice has an obligation to protect the interests of the judges and to ensure that they are not treated with disrespect. If we are not welcomed at State events, why should we sit on a stage behind him, for an opening of the law term ceremony, in the presence of the President when we are persona non grata?” The Chief Justice is the chair of the national awards committee.
In response to questions from Newsday, Cheryl Lala, communications advisor to President Christine Kangaloo said judges were not invited because of “space constraints at The President’s House where the 2023 National Awards ceremony is being held.”
However, this explanation has not well received by the judges who see the omission as “a brazen and partisan attempt to marginalise the nation’s judges …
“When judges are not seen and excluded it then plays into the narrative that judges are out of touch and operate in ivory towers. The judiciary is then blamed for executive and legislative incompetence.
Judges pointed out on the table of precedence, or official protocol list, judges followed members of the Executive and Legislature, right after 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.