August 6, 2020

Trinidad High Court judge gets death threat note with bullet

(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.

Re­spond­ing to the death threat, Jus­tice Seep­er­sad said while he had been re­ceiv­ing death threats since 2013 in the “re­cent past the in­ten­si­ty has in­creased.”

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.”

How­ev­er the out­spo­ken High Court judge be­lieves that “all is not lost.”

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.”

Ac­cord­ing to Seep­er­sad there is need for a “mul­ti-faceted ap­proach to be adopt­ed in re­la­tion to the abate­ment of crime.”

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.”

Seep­er­sad said in a democ­ra­cy “fear of crime can­not re­sult in a cir­cum­stance where the en­shrined rights guar­an­teed un­der the Re­pub­li­can Con­sti­tu­tion are com­pro­mised.”

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.”

Of the old adage that Jus­tice de­layed is jus­tice de­nied, Seep­er­sad not­ed that while many “laud­able re­forms” have been ef­fect­ed in the ju­di­cial sys­tem, more re­sources are re­quired to en­sure that there are “avail­able state lawyers, de­fence lawyers, court rooms, re­quired tech sup­port and staff.”

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 told Guardian Me­dia he has no per­son­al is­sues with the CJ. “I firm­ly be­lieve the oath of ju­di­cial of­fice im­pos­es up­on the judge an oblig­a­tion to pro­tect and de­fend the rule of law and the in­de­pen­dence and in­tegri­ty of the in­sti­tu­tion.”

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.”

Asked how he felt about the state’s de­ci­sion to de­crim­i­nal­ize small amounts of mar­i­jua­na, Seep­er­sad said “It is with­in the re­mit of the Par­lia­ment to ef­fect leg­is­la­tion and so one has to hope that the so­ci­ety acts in a ma­ture and rea­son­able man­ner, re­mem­ber­ing al­ways that ex­cess of any­thing can have neg­a­tive con­se­quences. “

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.

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