No longer required to file declarations
By FRANCIS JOSEPH newsday.co.tt
MADAME Justice Judith Jones yesterday refused to step down from hearing a case in which all judges and magistrates have an interest. Sitting in the Port-of-Spain High Court, Jones said if she was to step down, she would be shirking the responsibility placed on her by the TT Constitution and the oath she took on her appointment as a Judge of the Supreme Court. Jones gave a written six-page ruling on the request for her to sit out hearing a "construction" case brought by the Integrity Commission against the Attorney General. It was during her ruling that Jones said that the chairman of the Integrity Commission had written to Chief Justice Sat Sharma informing him that judges of the Supreme Court are not required to file declarations under the Integrity in Public Life Act 2000. This was a new twist as the commission had earlier written to the Chief Justice granting extensions of time for the filing of the declarations by the judges under the Act.
The judges and magistrates were classed with persons in public life such as politicians and members of State boards. However, Jones did not mention if magistrates fell within the latest developments. On July 22, the commission filed an application in the High Court seeking to have two questions determined. One of the questions was whether having regard to the provisions of the Constitution and the Integrity in Public Life Act 2000 as amended, judges and magistrates are persons in public life. Jones said she was assigned the case in October in accordance with the new system of random assignment of cases. At the request of the commission on October 28, Jones gave directions for a notice to be published in the daily newspapers inviting persons with sufficient interest who may wish to be heard to appear before her on November 15. On that day, certain persons appeared before the court seeking audience. Jones directed that these persons file affidavits by November 28 stating their interest in the proceedings. Judges and magistrates filed an affidavit on November 22, along with other bodies including the Law Reform Commission and the Law Revision Commission.
On December 5, an affidavit was filed by Chandresh Sharma, Member of Parliament for Fyzabad, seeking leave to intervene in the matter. When the matter was called on December 6, a person, not a party to the proceedings, asked that Jones recuse herself on the grounds that:
(a) there was an application by senior counsel acting on behalf of judges and magistrates to be heard in the matter, and;
(b) in the event that Jones had not filed a declaration as required by the Integrity Commission, there could arise a suspicion of bias as it could be said that the judge had an interest to serve in these proceedings, or that she was predisposed to a certain construction of the relevant legislation.
In her ruling, Jones said the application caused her great concern. But she said the application by the commission must be heard by a judge of the High Court, then by the Court of Appeal and the Privy Council. She said with the exception of the Privy Council, the proceedings affect all the judges in TT. Jones said her position was not unique among the judges of the Supreme Court, neither can it be said that there has been a prejudging of the issue. "Further, sitting in my capacity as a Judge of the High Court, I am the final arbiter only with respect to the issues of fact." Jones said her decision was subject to reversal by the Court of Appeal in the first instances and then the Privy Council. "The case before me is one for the construction of the Act. It is a matter of law and not of fact. In dealing with this matter, I will not be required to make any findings that cannot be challenged in courts of higher jurisdiction."
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