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CCJ sits through bomb scare

CCJ sits through bomb scare

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PORT-OF-SPAIN – NOT EVEN a post-luncheon bomb scare was sufficient to thwart Monday’s historic first sitting of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in downtown Port-of-Spain.

The threat caused the evacuation of the Unit Trust Building, located at the corner of Richmond Street and Independence Square South, and delayed the hearing for about 45 minutes. {{more}}

“We are grateful when it is just a scare,” President of the Court Michael de la Bastide said as the court resumed hearings. He added that everyone was aware of the effects of a real bomb.

The Court was inaugurated on April 16, during gala celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago, to serve initially as the final appellate court for Barbados and Guyana, and eventually for several other Caribbean countries. de la Bastide, in a brief address before the case began, said while the first hearing was an historic one, it was a pity it had to be held in such cramped conditions.

Leading Barbadian lawyer, Sir Henry Forde, QC, agreed with de la Bastide that it was an historic occasion not only for Barbados, being the first nation to seek access to the Court, but for the entire Caribbean.

“In this small step, in this small building, is a large step for Caribbean justice,” Sir Henry said.

A total of 19 seats were available to accommodate members of the media, litigants and interested members of the public while 12 grey swivel executive chairs were provided for the lawyers, facing the panel of five judges, all dressed in their royal blue and gold robes.

Separating them were Registrar of the CCJ Paula Pierre, the Court’s clerk, the Court orderly and an audio digital transcriptionist. While addressing the court, the lawyers were asked to use a podium, snuggled close to the left wall.

Most Commonwealth Caribbean countries have used the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as the final appellate court for decades, but many critics have argued that the judges who preside at the Privy Council were too far removed from Caribbean society to decide on local issues.

de la Bastide noted that the conference room being utilised, on the building’s fifth floor, was neither the permanent nor semi-permanent seat of the Court as a building on Henry Street, Port-of-Spain, was still being reconfigured to accommodate the Court. Work was expected to continue for some more months.

He said the work was being done at the expense of the Trinidad and Tobago Government and apologised to those present for the inconvenience.

He noted, however, that he did not think the work of the Court should be delayed by a lack of proper accommodation, adding that a new venue might be needed for future sittings.

A handful of Trinidadian lawyers, including Odai Ramischand, Vashiest Kokaram and Alvin Pascall, and one High Court judge, David Myers, were present to observe the proceedings.

The case, which invoked the jurisdiction of the Court, involved an appeal brought by Barbados Rediffusion, now operating as Starcom Network, seeking to overturn a decision of the Court of Appeal against its decision to rule in favour of a now defunct chicken processing plant.

The owners of the processing plant, Asha and Ram Mirchandani, sued the radio company in September 1990, claiming $2.8 million in compensation for libel after the radio station broadcast three songs during the Crop-Over Festival which allegedly made defamatory comments about the quality of the chickens produced by McDonald Chicken Farm.

At the end of Monday’s hearing at 4:50 p.m., de la Bastide, who presided with Justices Désirée Bernard, Professor David Hayton, Adrian Saunders and Rolston Nelson, ruled that the radio company would be granted access to argue its case before the CCJ.

The judges took a 15-minute recess to consider whether to grant the company access to the court after about five hours of legal submissions.

de la Bastide said the Court was conscious of the 16-year delay which had elapsed since the case was first filed and it was keen on doing whatever it could to avoid further delays. (Trinidad Express)

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