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Saturday 22 September 2018
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Judges in the house?

In the current election campaign, we now have two members of the Bench who have retired with immediate effect to contest the polls. Both Senior Magistrate Ramraj Harripersad and High Court Judge Herbert Volney announced that they had resigned to become UNC candidates.

These developments are of great concern to us, and we share many of the concerns being expressed about these developments. We have no problem with former judges deciding to join political parties, and to run as candidates for these parties. The difference is that a former judge is a citizen like the rest of us. We cannot yet refer to Judge Volney as a “former judge” in this debate. He was still on the Bench when he made his decision, and he clearly must have been in some sort of consultation with the UNC even as he enjoyed the status of a High Court Judge. How long have these consultations been ongoing while Mr Volney was sitting as a Judge? Would he have resigned his tenure if he had not been guaranteed a candidacy within the UNC?

And what may we ask is the status of the cases he heard particularly in which he found against the State, even, as it now appears he was consulting with a political party?

The situation has all the trappings of a “done deal” where a sitting Judge suddenly comes out a feisty anti-government candidate. There is something here which deeply offends our sense of ethics and indeed the impartiality of the judiciary.

It is one thing to accept Mr. Volney’s complaints about the judicial system, it is another matter that he should have been making arrangements for his entry into politics while he was still on the Bench. We wait to hear reasoned opinion on this without the political slant. We expect the Law Association to provide us with comment on this unusual, but not entirely unprecedented situation. Quite frankly we are not impressed with the comments of the political parties on this, for we accept that their take will be hysterically partisan.

Mrs. Persad-Bissessar was, we consider, quite irresponsible in declaring that “even members of the Judiciary are standing up for their country”. We hope and believe that our judges are doing this all the time, and under difficult conditions indeed. They have “stood up for their country” in giving rulings on matters against the government when that was what justice required, and most of these decisions have been upheld by the Privy Council, which cannot be said to be tainted by any bias towards any local entity.

Prime Minister Manning’s reaction to the resignation of Volney and Harripersad was also unacceptable. We simply do not believe, and we would need to see evidence produced, before we accept that either gentleman was a secret supporter of the UNC , and had therefore been prejudiced in any judgments or decisions. Indeed, Mr. Manning seemed to harbour no such qualms in 1996 when he plucked Justice Anthony Lucky from the Appeal court to offer him as a candidate for President of the Republic.

Even more worrying in this episode is Manning’s declaration that “Security forces in this country have had an interest in the activities of Volney for some time”. How many Judges of the High Court, other than Volney and former Chief Justice Sharma, have Manning’s security forces been monitoring? And for what reasons? However, if Security was doing their job, they should have reported “some time” ago, that Volney was in discussion with the UNC.

Even if the UNC as a political party saw no wrong in wooing Mr Volney to their side, he as a sitting judge of the court should have shown more integrity and refused to be drawn into a situation such as this that harms the Judiciary, an institution, we may add, that is the last bastion of freedom in our creeping dictatorship.

It was simply wrong of Mr Volney to act the way he has done. The Chief Justice has already expressed his concern and we would like to hear from the Law Association on this issue.

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