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(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) – High Court Judge Justice Frank Seepersad says he “lives in faith, trusting in God and the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS)” whose support he said has been “constant and reassuring” in the face of death threats which he has been receiving since 2013.
On Friday the latest death threat came in the form of a hand-written note which top level security told Guardian Media was scrawled in red and which contained a bullet.
Guardian Media reached out to Justice Seepersad via email after receiving confirmation that it was he who had received the death threat. He agreed to respond to our emailed questions, including questions about the criminal justice system, the state of the judiciary and the state of crime in the country.
He said while he has “no power over the curtailment of same, I have power over my reaction.” It is for this reason he said he lives in “faith” trusting in God and the TTPS.
“I refuse to live in fear and remain undeterred in my commitment to fearlessly discharge of my oath of office,” Seepersad told Guardian Media.
“Sadly,” he said his circumstance is “not unique,” as he expressed concern that “every citizen in this blessed Republic is under siege by an unrelenting criminal minority.”
He strongly believes that as a country we have the power to win the war against the criminals “we can abate this problem and win the war,” but to do so he said “requires us to depart from the divisive path which has defined us.”
Justice Seepersad who is also an advocate for stronger families, believes that families play a key role in bringing crime down, “the fight against crime must commence within the confines of our homes, we must work together with resolute focus on improving family life, aiding and mentoring at risk youth,” he said.
Recently Police commissioner Gary Griffith described the Judiciary as having a bleeding heart for criminals, asked how he felt about the comment, Justice Seepersad said blame should not be “apportioned to any singular branch of the state.”
He said Parliament makes the law, the police enforce the law and the judiciary “interprets, applies and imposes the necessary sanctions.”
If the law provides for bail and a judicial officer grants bail, “that decision ought not to be debated in the court of public opinion, but a revocation order could be sought from a higher court,” he said.
The high court judge is of the view that each arm of the criminal justice machinery should “focus upon its area of responsibility, in an environment where information is shared freely and requisite support should define the interaction between component parts.”
Asked about the state of the judiciary today he acknowledged that the “rapid deterioration” of public confidence is cause for “extreme concern.”
As the third arm of the state he said citizens should feel always that within the walls of the hall “their rights would be vindicated and that justice will prevail.”
It was unfortunate he said that “it appears that many citizens do not share this view and this situation is untenable.”
He described it as a ‘complex web” insisting that “all the strands play an integral role in the structural integrity of the institution and its efficiency.”
Seepersad has been one of the most vocal on issues in the public domain affecting the Judiciary, including allegations made against chief justice Ivor Archie.
He agreed to respond to questions on the issue.
He said it should be remembered that “where a Chief Justice’s future is contingent upon the exercise of the executive discretion as it relates to the innovation of section 137 of the constitution, such a situation can create a perception of compromise. There is therefore the need to ensure the reforms are accompanied by resources and that judges are not irrationally reassigned between divisions or that sensitive matters are not arbitrarily reassigned, bearing in mind that as administrative head the CJ can unilaterally approve and roll out reform initiatives, reassign judges and re-docket matters.”
Asked whether he felt the judiciary was truly independent, Seepersad said independence is more than “a state of affairs,” it also “involves a state of mind.” In his eight years as a judge he said he had not experienced or heard of any circumstance “of executive over reach or overt attempts to influence the outcome of matters before the court.”
He believes however that “not all judges act fearlessly,” the failure to do so he said “compromises the independence of such a judicial officer.”
Seepersad said the change places a “heightened responsibility” on parents and guardians to “provide God directed guidance and instruction to their children and charges ,as there are so many drugs ,social media influences and vices that can lead them to traverse destructive paths.”
When he’s not serving on the bench, Justice Seepersad is an ordained member of the clergy and often delivers sermons from the pulpit of the Presbyterian Church. He said he is ‘grateful to the church for the continued opportunity to share the word of God.”
Asked whether he sees any conflict in voicing concerns from the pulpit he said “I think our lives cannot be compartmentalised, as every facet fashions the other. God provides us with abundant grace and many of the answers to life’s most pressing issues. Just as with the law, religion has to be relevant and relatable,” he said.