OPINION: The CCJ as a regional apex court deserves the highest respect

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The following is an opinion piece by Seenath Jairam, SC

I was shocked to see on page 10 of the Guardian newspaper on Saturday, July 4, 2020 a full-page publication plainly attempting to influence the extant matter before the CCJ concerning the Guyana elections.

Although this publication was not described as an advertisement, I am fairly sure that this publication was not an expression of the views of the Guardian newspaper. I am confident of this because I have never known the Guardian, or indeed any newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago, to seek to attempt to influence the outcome of a pending matter before any Court. Even so, the Guardian must have been aware of the impact that such an advertisement would have in the context of the pending proceedings before the CCJ.

Any member of the public reading this advertisement would realise that it reflects the submissions of the Government parties before the CCJ. The publication in a newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago was plainly designed to influence the judges in the CCJ, or to delegitimise any ruling which they hand down which might be unfavourable to the Government of Guyana.

It is a long established and well respected rule of law in all English speaking countries that when any matter is active before any court, the parties and indeed the public will refrain from commenting on the merits of the case, meaning simply, that while the matter is under judicial consideration and as yet undetermined; the litigants or their lawyers are permitted to have their say in court. This is called the sub-judice rule.

It would be unthinkable for the Trinidad and Tobago government to publish an advertisement in a London Newspaper seeking to influence a matter pending before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Why then would a local newspaper think it appropriate to issue this publication?

Any comment which prejudices the merits of the proceedings may constitute a contempt of Court as being a publication tending to influence a court against a party. The CCJ as a regional apex court deserves the highest respect and persons and Governments before the court must behave in a dignified and respectful manner.

This publication by the Guardian is unprecedented in this jurisdiction and, if left unchecked, will only serve to damage the credibility and standing of the CCJ in the region. If this is permissible in respect of the CCJ then surely any other courts are also fair game.

It should not be necessary to consider whether this behaviour constitutes a contempt. One would hope that the persons responsible for this publication would immediately retract it and apologise to the Court. If they do not do so, surely the Guardian Newspaper should itself issue an unconditional apology to the CCJ and ensures that such a travesty does not again occur.