Policy on sabbatical still unclear: T&T PM goes to court

(Trinidad Guardian) Even though Chief Justice Ivor Archie has changed his sabbatical leave to vacation leave, Government is still seeking the courts’ interpretation on whether sabbatical is really an entitlement for judges.

And Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley now has a new concern for President Anthony Carmona to consider about Archie’s vacation leave — whether it’s lawful also.

Speaking at Thursday’s post-Cabinet media briefing on Archie’s controversial sabbatical leave – the basis and authority for which Rowley has disputed with Carmona — Rowley said Cabinet had objected to Carmona granting Archie’s sabbatical leave without Cabinet authority.

And if the Chief Justice is going on extended vacation leave, we draw the attention of other office-holders that there are laws governing these developments,” the PM said.

Among reasons for seeking court ruling on the sabbatical issue, Rowley revealed, is conflicting legal advice. He said one set of senior counsel advice was received by the Attorney General and another was received by him.

He said the Cabinet was told on Thursday the senior counsel advice the AG received showed there is a case for sabbatical leave to be accessed. But Rowley said (local) independent senior counsel advice which he received independently was different.

He refused to identify his SC, but said he was following the advice since the peculiarities of Section 137 — facilitating a probe to see if a chief justice has misbehaved in office — is an action to be taken by a prime minister alone.

He said he sought the independent advice but not in relation to Section 137. But Rowley noted the situation is unfolding.

Rowley said he wrote to Carmona again on Thursday volunteering his advice on the matter and noting in his letter the sabbatical matter “is now a looming constitutional crisis.”

He said he also spoke to Archie, but added that in the new position of Archie’s vacation leave it was critical that “… both these officers take note of the written conditions laid down in law, in so far as use/access of leave by members of the judiciary, including the chief justice.”

He said the law spells out how leave should and shouldn’t be applied.

Rowley said he’d been taken aback by Carmona’s recent letter citing the SRC’s report as the basis for the sabbatical leave. He said the terms/conditions for office holders paid by the Exchequer require such authority for payments lying with the Cabinet. He said the SRC report favoured the sabbatical “in principle,” but it wasn’t part of SRC’s specific recommendations.

Rowley said according to the advice he got, there’s no provision for sabbatical by the SRC. Therefore, he said Cabinet felt there’s no authority to allow the CJ to go on sabbatical.

“Had he proceeded there would have been consequences of one kind or another,” Rowley hinted.

After Cabinet discussions on the matter, he said it was felt the President had no authority to arrogate power unto himself himself, nor had the CJ authority to change the terms of any judge.

“Such authority lies with the executive and as head I’ll guard that zealously,”Rowley declared.

“This development was wholly unnecessary and needs to be dealt with frontally and decisively.”Rowley said he therefore told Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi to take steps to have the courts interpret the sabbatical issue to clarify – in the face of contrary opinion – whether there’s legitimate expectation of anyone in the judiciary to access it.

Carmona’s letter to Rowley on the issue had said Archie had legitimate expectation on the sabbatical.

Rowley particularly cited Archie’s statement – on changing sabbatical to vacation leave – which indicated the CJ was reserving his option to access sabbatical leave.

So the sabbatical story is still alive. In light of what the President and Chief Justice acted upon in this, it’s imperative it be clarified,” he said, adding Archie was causing the matter to be tested.

Rowley said the court aspect didn’t mean suing anyone, but seeking ruling. He added the sabbatical was about changing terms/conditions and there was a “serious cost” on terms/conditions of state employees and that authority lies with the executive.

Asked if the court ruling will have any potential impact on any decision by Rowley on Section 137, he said, “Not that I know if. It’s meant to ensure no ambiguity with accessing sabbatical leave by members of the judiciary.”

On whether it would be a conflict if judges in courts ruled on such a matter affecting judges, he said there’s a “court of last resort” to deal with such issues.

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