The virtual trial of a lawsuit, in which the publishers of a daily newspaper are challenging the constitutionality of two recent raids on their organization, had to be postponed yesterday due to technical issues.
The connectivity issues, which appeared to emanate from the Judiciary’s internet service provider, began almost as soon as Justice Frank Seepersad commenced the case brought by One Caribbean Media (OCM) and its Trinidad Express newspaper.
Seepersad eventually had to log in to the virtual hearing with his cellphone to inform the parties that he would be deferring the case to a time when in-persons hearings in court buildings are permitted.
“I am no longer prepared to continue to try to discharge my constitutional obligations by bending over backwards to facilitate litigants and the lawyers because today has demonstrated with no uncertainty in my mind that certain changes ought to be made and until they are and until I have the discretion to determine what matters are to be proceeded with in-person or virtually, I am simply not going to continue as I have been,” Seepersad said.
Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein, who is leading the State’s legal team in the lawsuit, also submitted that the case would have better litigated in an in-person trial.
Under recent Practice Directions issued by Chief Justice Ivor Archie in-person hearings are only permitted in domestic violence cases.
Ironically, the incident comes weeks after Seepersad openly criticised the Judiciary’s over-reliance on virtual trials during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Responding to a proposal made by Seepersad to host in-person hearings, Archie did not directly forbid the move but strongly advised against it.
The raids on the newspaper were related to a series of investigative reports by journalist Denyse Renne, which revealed that Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Irwin Hackshaw had been flagged by three local banks for suspicious financial activity.
The reports also alleged that Hacksaw had been moonlighting as a security consultant whilst on vacation leave without the permission of the Police Commissioner.
They also alleged that Hackshaw solicited “donations” from businesses to fund annual social events for police officers.
The Financial Investigations Bureau ( FIB) investigation allegedly was to determine who leaked the information, as Proceeds of Crime Act makes it an offence to disclose information about an active money-laundering investigation.
The “tipping off” offence carries a maximum penalty of a $5 million fine and five years imprisonment.
Both Hackshaw and the newspaper have denied any wrongdoing.
Hackshaw has since been suspended pending a probe ordered by Police Commissioner Gary Griffith.
The Media Association of T&T (MATT) has also been granted permission to participate in the case.
MATT is being represented by Ria Mohammed-Davidson and Michael Rooplal.
The companies are being represented by Sophia Chote, SC, Peter Carter, Vahni Seunath, and Dana-Marie Smith.
Rishi Dass, and Kendra Mark-Gordon are also representing the AG’s Office.