As many public officials anticipate the pomp of today’s National Awards ceremony, there was disquiet among judges whom President Christine Kangaloo left off her guest list.
Only Chief Justice Ivor Archie, who heads the National Awards Committee, will represent the Judiciary. President’s House usually sends invitations to the Judiciary, and its protocol officer distributes them to judges, requesting their and their spouse’s attendance. However, judges later learnt that President’s House had no space to accommodate them.
Communications Adviser to Kangaloo, Cheryl Lala, explained there are space constraints as the ceremony returns to President’s House with a guest list of just over 300.
“It is a simple matter of space constraints. The awards, this year, are being held back at President’s House, which can accommodate a limited number of people. There is nothing sinister. It is just that we cannot accommodate as many people as before,” Lala said.
“The people receiving the National Awards are who Her Excellency wants to focus on and they are the guest of honour. Each is entitled to two guests.”
A senior judge told Sunday Guardian that since Republic Day awards ceremonies began, it was tradition for the President to invite judges, except during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, former president Paula-Mae Weekes called off the awards due to COVID-19, and 2021 saw a small ceremony at the President’s House as the pandemic continued with Weekes, Archie, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and the awardees present.
The 2022 awards ceremony was at the National Academy for Performing Arts in Port-of-Spain.
“Other than the Chief Justice, no Supreme Court or Court of Appeal judge was invited this year. It is a hundred million dollar tax payer funded President’s House, where in the past, President (Noor) Hassanali and for some time President (George) Richards conducted the National Awards ceremony on the grounds of President’s House and invited the Judiciary,” the judge said.
Another found the snub ridiculous, saying that the Supreme Court was an arm of the State, noting that only Court of Appeal judges got invited to the opening ceremony for the new parliamentary term recently.
“How can space be an issue? There is no need for members of the social circuit to be invited.”
Another judge added that the honour of receiving a national award heightens when done in the presence of all arms of State.
That is why the President, Prime Minister and Chief Justice are on the stage. Awardees will most likely appreciate the significance of their achievement when they stand before all members of the legislative arm, executive and Judiciary. It appears that judges are being relegated into the realm of insignificance, and the Chief Justice is silent.”
Judges said the issue was not about attendance, but the impression conveyed to society and awardees. It sends a message that judges are no longer an integral part of the fabric of T&T. There was concern about whether there is a concerted attempt to undermine the importance to which the Judiciary should be viewed and held.
The judges argued that they ranked 12 and 13 in the Table of Precedence, above the Senate and House of Representatives, but the Senators and MPs got invited.
“This is a function hosted by the President. It is not your party; it is an official state function, so you should observe the order of precedence. It is incumbent on the officeholder to make the arrangements to cater for all people to attend based on their offices. It is not a political or party event,” another judge said.
Responding to this, Lala said Kangaloo prepares the guest lists, and she could not speak about precedence. Lala said Kangaloo wanted the ceremony back at the President’s House as its historical home.