July 08, 2007
An Afro-Trinidadian Hindu man has complained about a High Court judge whom he said “rolled up his eyes” and “shook his head” when the man asked to be sworn in on the Bhagavad Gita before he gave evidence in a court case.
Presley Roberts, 40, in a letter dated June 5, wrote to Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma as the head of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, charging bias on the part of the judge, also an Afro-Trinidadian.
Roberts, a foreign-used car dealer, said he had a matter in the Port-of-Spain High Court on June 1, and when he went into the witness box, the judge asked him his religion.
“I told him I am a Hindu. He looked at me, rolled up his eyes then told the lady clerk to sit down and told me to sit down as he has to think about this a little while.
“He then told the clerk to swear me in and after I was sworn in, he again asked me if I was a Hindu.
“I again answered yes, and the judge shook his head and then asked me whether I was born a Hindu,” Roberts wrote.
Speaking to the Sunday Guardian at his Chin Chin, Cunupia, home on Friday evening, Roberts said he was born a Roman Catholic and converted to Hinduism in 1976 after he had became ill and doctors were unable to find out what was wrong with him.
He said after his parents took him to a Hindu temple, he got better and since then, he had participated in pujas and done other Hindu rituals. He said only last month, he conducted pujas for Mother Lakshmi and Lord Shiva at a temple at Pasea Road, Tunapuna.
Roberts said the judge asked him if his parents were Hindus and he said they were Christians.
Although, Roberts wore a pendant on Friday, he said he was not against other religions. He said when he goes to Japan, he even worships in Buddhist temples.
In the courtroom, Roberts said the judge had asked him to which caste he belonged.
“I told him I did not understand what he meant. He looked at me with scorn on his face. I felt very uncomfortable and hurt. I felt the judge was bias,” Roberts wrote to the Chief Justice.
“I believe that the judge could not understand how I, as an Afro-Trinidadian, could be a Hindu and it seems as though from his conduct and comments to me, he has a problem with Hinduism.”
In his letter, Roberts said: “I believe that from the questions that the judge asked me and from his behaviour that I would not get true justice in the matter before him.”
He said he eventually gave evidence in the matter and is to be cross-examined.
Roberts has asked the Chief Justice to investigate his complaint with a view to his getting justice, saying “the public should know what the judge did because judges should not treat persons who come before the courts in the way I was treated.”
Roberts said he has copied the letter to several people including President Max Richards, Prime Minister Patrick Manning, UNC political leader Basdeo Panday, the head of the Inter-Religious Organisation, to the judge in question and to his lawyers.
Sat Maharaj, secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, the largest Hindu organisation in the country, said anyone could be a Hindu once he practises the ways of a Hindu.
He said there were “quite a number of Afro-Trinidadians who practise Hinduism.”
Maharaj said he felt offended when reading Roberts’ letter and intends to take up the matter with President Richards, the JLSC and acting Chief Justice Roger Hamel-Smith.
He said a judge must perform his duty fearlessly and impartially.
The Sunday Guardian gave a copy of Roberts’ letter to Ayesha Scott, of the Court Protocol and Information Office, for a response from the judge in question and from acting Chief Justice Roger Hamel-Smith. Up to yesterday there was no response.
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