(Trinidad Guardian) United National Congress (UNC) activist Devant Maharaj has won the final leg of his legal battle challenging the composition of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC).
Delivering a 14-page judgment yesterday morning, five British Law Lords overturned a decision of the local Court of Appeal to dismiss Maharaj’s claim over two retired judges being appointed to the body.
In its judgment, the Privy Council was asked to interpret Section 110 of the Constitution which establishes the JLSC. It states that the body should comprise of the Chief Justice, chairman of the Public Service Commission, a retired or sitting judge and two persons with legal qualifications that are “not in active practice as such.”
In the judgment, the Privy Council agreed with Maharaj’s claim that retired judges could not fall within last segment defined by the Constitution.
“The Board considers that the difficulty exemplified by this attempt to categorise a serving judge as either in, or not in, active practice as a person with legal qualifications, adds significant weight to the argument that it was not intended that judges should be included within section 110(3)(b) at all,” Lady Jill Black, who wrote the judgement, said.
While the decision means that the JLSC was not properly constituted when Maharaj filed his claim in 2017, the Privy Council noted that judicial appointments made by the then JLSC would still be protected under the Interpretation Act.
Maharaj filed the lawsuit following the fiasco involving the JLSC’s appointment of former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar.
He had applied for an injunction in a last-ditched bid to block the swearing in of two new judges, Jacqueline Wilson and Kathy-Ann Waterman.
The injunction was initially granted by Justice Frank Seepersad following a marathon hearing the night before the appointments were due to take place.
Seepersad’s decision on the injunction was reversed by the Court of Appeal the following day, clearing the way for the appointments. The court also struck out Maharaj’s substantive lawsuit.
At the time when the Court of Appeal dismissed Maharaj’s claim, the JLSC members were Chief Justice Ivor Archie, head of the Public Service Commission Maureen Manchouck and retired judges Roger Hamel-Smith, Humphrey Stollmeyer and attorney Ernest Koylass, SC.
While the case was pending Hamel-Smith and Stollmeyer resigned, citing “personal reasons” and unfair public criticism of their work on the body. Appellate Judge Charmaine Pemberton was subsequently appointed to the JLSC.
Maharaj was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC and Gerald Ramdeen.