Two High Court judges have distanced themselves from the Judiciary's statements which criticised an ole mas presentation on the steps of of the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain last Friday.
Justices Frank Seepersad and Carol Gobin who have been outspoken about their disapproval with the controversy surrounding embattled Chief Justice Ivor Archie have condemned the Judiciary’s stance on the matter.
Last Friday, a group of ole mas masqueraders gathered outside the Hall of Justice bearing placards critical of the Chief Justice, the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC), and of the Administration of Justice.
In response, the Judiciary which is under the charge of acting Chief Justice Peter Jamadar acknowledged the right of freedom of thought and expression and associated entitlements, as well as the “permissive social commentary and critique” associated with Carnival through calypso, ole mas and picong. However, the Judiciary cautioned that there were boundaries that ought not to be crossed.
“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 Judiciary 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,” the Judiciary stated.
However, in a press release, supported by Gobin, Seepersad unreservedly disassociated himself from the Judiciary's statement.
“As a judicial officer, I have never felt that my office shields me from measured critique, commentary which is not defamatory or from being held to account for my 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.” Seepersad said citizens deserve to have judges who are above reproach and judicial officers must be cognisant that it will be extremely difficult for members of the public to respect the judgements delivered if they are unable to respect the individuals who delivered them.
Seepersad said from what was noted 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 information in the public domain.
“The depictions also appeared to be reflective of the picong, double entendre and humour 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,” Seepersad stated.