Persad-Bissessar tells Rowley: Respect the courts and judges

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar. – File photo by Angelo Marcelle

THE Prime Minister’s recent public utterances about a High Court judge are testing the separation of powers in TT, according to Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Persad-Bissessar said there are avenues to challenge a judge’s decision but “crass verbal assaults” by those in power will only serve to undermine confidence in the judicial process.

Speaking to UNC supporters at a cottage meeting in Caroni on Monday, Persad-Bissessar reacted to the PM’s comments in a Newsday article on March 27, titled Rowley: Judge went ‘overboard’ in criticisms of CoP.

Rowley said High Court judge Frank Seepersad had “gone overboard” when he critiqued the professional conduct of Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher.

He said, “(Activist judges) who act as though they could make policy and guide public servants on what to do, I am saying (it is) the Government’s policy (that) ought to be respected.

Rowley, during a question and answer segment at his Conversations with the Prime Minister forum in Tunapuna on March 27, also suggested that the Cabinet had a part to play in crafting policy for granting of Firearms User’s Licences (FUL).

Persad-Bissessar said his comments disturbed her, and she accused the PM of issuing a “dangerous attack on the judges in our country.”

She reiterated that constitutional republics, like TT, are guided by the principle of separation of powers.

“(Separation) ensures that State power is not concentrated in the hands of a few. The arms of the State are supposed to act as a check and balance of each other.”

While the government administers laws, Parliament crafts, and the judiciary enforces them, she said.

“The judiciary’s role is to resolve disputes including those between individuals and against or for the State. The courts have a very important role in limiting abuse of power (by the government).

“Any responsible government has a responsibility to accept the court’s rulings and to stay within the law and respect rights.

She said there are avenues to appeal rather than “attacking” a judge when a case is lost.

“There can be restrained and respectful disagreements with the judge’s ruling, but frontal, crass and unsubstantiated verbal assaults in the public domain will only undermine confidence in the administration of justice.

“A judge should not be labelled as an activist simply because he makes respectful suggestions; he’s decided a matter against the State.”

Referring to the March 27 Newsday article, Persad-Bissessar said she noted Rowley’s “dangerous statements” which suggest the Cabinet sets policy for granting FULs.

Persad-Bissessar cited section 17 of the Firearms Act chapter 16.01, which gives the Commissioner of Police the sole authority to issue an FUL.

“Tonight, I ask Mr Rowley, are you now alluding to an unspoken arrangement between the government and the (COP) in which the government has a say as to who gets these licences?

“I call on the police commissioner to clear up any doubts since the independence of that supposedly independent office is now in question.

“Commissioner, please clear up this statement made by the PM. You are the functionary, you are the person (to) come out and say ‘no.’”