Two Trinidad judges break ranks with Judiciary’s statement over Ole Mas criticism

Message in the mas: Members of an ole mas band parade along the steps of the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain Sunday as they express their displeasure with the current state of the Judiciary.

(Trinidad Express) Two High Court judges have distanced themselves from the Judiciary’s statement regarding an incident on the front steps of the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain on Friday.

Justices Carol Gobin and Frank Seepersad have said that they “unreservedly disassociate themselves from the contents of the statement” which was issued under the authority of Ag Chief Justice Peter Jamadar.

The Saturday Express newspaper reported on the event under the headline “Ole Mas comes to the Hall of Justice”, and introduced its report as follows: “Masqueraders bearing placards with unprintable statements directed at Chief Justice Ivor Archie drew the attention of spectators outside the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain…”.

The Judiciary responded with a lengthy statement on Sunday, stating : “Thus whereas criticism of the Judiciary and of judicial officers is permissible, any such comment ought to be fair, reasonable and proportionate and ought to show appropriate respect for the administration of justice and judicial officers in the discharge of their duties. It is in these circumstances that the JRTT urges temperance in the public criticisms levelled against the JLSC, CJ and the Administration of Justice. Unwarranted, crass and demeaning criticisms are not likely to be justifiable in either the social or the public interest, and may more likely undermine them both”.

However, not all judges agreed.

The following is the statement by Gobin and Seepersad:

We have read the Judiciary’s media release and unreservedly disassociate ourselves from the contents of same.

As judicial officers we have never felt that our office shields us from measured critique, commentary which are defamatory, or from being held to account for our actions both in and out of court.

Respect for high office cannot be demanded, it has to be earned.

To engender same, the office holder must conduct himself / herself in such a manner which signals that he/she respects and acknowledges the import of the office, treasures the privilege to serve and conscientiously strives to behave in a manner which emulates and adopts the highest standards of honesty and integrity.

As judicial officers we have a heightened obligation to ensure that we conduct our professional and personal lives in a manner which is devoid of deviance, dysfunction and duplicity.

Citizens deserve to have Judges who are above reproach and judicial officers must be cognizant that it will be extremely difficult for members of the public to respect the judgments delivered, if they are unable to respect the individuals who delivered them.

From what was noted via the print and social media, the depictions did not appear to be unfair, unreasonable and or disproportionate especially when regard is had to the issues which have been traversed before the courts, the report prepared by The Law Association, the pending matters still to be adjudicated upon and the preponderance of information in the public domain.

The depictions also appeared to be reflective of the picong, double entendre and humor which is synonymous with Ole Mas.

The right and ability to engage in social commentary is indicative of a healthy democracy and any attempt to subvert freedom of expression premised upon any misguided perception of untouchability, entitlement or privilege, has to be strongly condemned.

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