Almost half of the country’s High Court Judges, who preside over civil cases, have expressed their objection to a proposed move to permanently abolish the Judiciary’s annual long vacation period.
In a letter sent to Chief Justice Ivor Archie and all High Court Judges on Tuesday, Justice Frank Seepersad questioned why the Judiciary sought to consult with the Law Association on the proposal despite a lack of unanimous support from judges..
Seepersad noted that after a meeting between Archie, himself, and 13 of their colleagues, only eight judges agreed with the proposal provided that clear criteria regarding judges utilising their annual vacation leave are published.
Seepersad, who was among the six that initially objected, said: “In the absence of clear and accepted criteria as to the manner in which leave is to be approved, in the event that the long vacation is abolished, I hold the view that your proposal amounts to a variation of the terms and conditions under which we, as judges, operate.”
However, he did note that he and his colleagues unanimously agreed to the abolition of this year’s vacation period due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seepersad suggested that he and his colleagues have a legitimate expectation that they would utilise their vacation entitlements during the six- week period, which usually begins in late July and ends with the opening of the new Law Term in mid-September.
“This arrangement is not always convenient for travel but it has been characterised by a measure of certainty which does not require any application process or the approval of the president,” Seepersad said.
Seepersad expressed concern over not only the effect of the proposal on judges but also attorneys, who usually utilise the period for vacations and will now have to work. He also said it may affect litigants and witnesses, who may not wish to participate in trials, which may coincide with their children’s July/August vacation.
“The COVID pandemic has reinforced how fundamental family life is to our general well-being as a society and the Judiciary as an institution should not take decisions which may disrupt the forging of enduring familial bonds,” Seepersad said, as he claimed suggested that the period was vital to ensuring that legal practitioners maintain their mental and emotional health.
Seepersad also sought to question whether the initiative would truly improve efficiency in the justice system or be counterproductive.
“In fact, if Judges are to go on extended vacation at different times during the year, such a scenario would introduce a measure of unpredictability which can lead to chaos as lawyers would not be able to plan their vacation times,” Seepersad said.
Seepersad’s complaint about the issue came as the Law Association invited its members to provide their views on the proposal. The deadline for submission is 4 pm today.
In its notice, the association said under the proposal matters would be heard throughout the year except during the Christmas and Easter periods.
“The council, however, has not been supplied with a statement containing the rationale for the proposed amendment which is attached hereto,” it stated.