On 19th February 2020, the High Court of Justice of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago ruled in favour of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (“LATT”) who applied to challenge the decision of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago not to refer to the President a question of removal of the Chief Justice under section 137 of the Constitution.
Such referral is the first step in the 3-stage constitutional scheme for removal of a Chief Justice. Given the central importance of the section 137 process for judicial independence, in a lengthy judgment, the Court was at pains to emphasize the fine balance that must be struck between the preservation of judicial independence and the rule of law; and the effectiveness of the said constitutional mechanism to remove the most senior judge in the land.
In arriving at its decision, the Court considered the following issues:
- The appropriate extent of the Prime Minister’s enquiry before he can decide whether to refer such a matter to the President;
- Reasonableness and Rationality of the Prime Minister’s decision not to refer the matter to the President;
- Whether the Prime Minister in coming to his decision against a referral had took into account all relevant considerations and/or took into account irrelevant considerations;
- Whether the Prime Minister was under any Tameside duty to conduct further inquiries before deciding against a referral;
- Whether the Prime Minister properly executed the duty to act fairly; and
- Whether there are any necessary reforms and/or recommendations for the improvement of the section 137 process.
The LATT failed in its challenges of rationality and relevant consideration, bad faith and natural justice, however, it succeeded on its claim of irrelevant consideration. The decision was remitted to the Prime Minister.
Mark Strachan QC, SC acted for the Respondent, instructed by the Attorney-General of Trinidad and Tobago.
The full judgment is available here.
A summary of the judgment is available here.