PSA wants judge in TTRA matter to recuse herself

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PSA wants judge in TTRA matter to recuse herself

The judge assigned to hear a lawsuit over the Government’s plan to replace the Customs and Excise Division (CED) and the Inland Revenue Division (IRD) with the T&T Revenue Authority (TTRA) has been asked to recuse herself.

The request has been made by the attorneys representing a Public Services Association (PSA) member, who has filed an official application to stop the plans.

Anand Ramlogan, SC, who is representing Customs and Excise officer Terissa Dhoray, recently wrote to High Court Judge Betsey-Ann Lambert-Peterson requesting that she recuse herself from the case because of her marriage to Senior Counsel Gilbert Peterson.  

Justice Lambert-Peterson rejected the suggestion during a case management conference last week Friday, as she stated that the concerns raised pertained to her husband and not her. 

According to a GML report, the applicatiom by attorney Vishaal Siewsaran referred to Peterson as a close friend and golfing partner of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. 

He claimed that his client only became concerned over Justice Lambert-Peterson’s perceived partiality when her colleagues raised the issue after she (Lambert-Peterson) dismissed an injunction application, last week. 

Siewsaran also claimed that Justice Lambert-Peterson should have raised it before considering the case and interim relief sought. 

“No such disclosure having been made by the court, the claimant has no reason to consider the issue of apparent bias and issues that she has subsequently come to know about that have caused her concern and prompted this application for recusal on the ground of apparent bias,” he said.

He also noted that Peterson also represented Rowley in several cases and currently serves as chairman of the Telecommunications Authority of T&T (TATT) and the Legal Aid and Advisory Authority (LAAA). 

He claimed that under Peterson’s tenure at TATT, warning letters were issued to several media companies over controversial statements made by political figures. 

However, he claimed that none concerned statements made by Rowley, which he described as “scandalous, vulgar, obscene, and offensive”. 

“The fact that Mr Peterson, SC, turned a blind eye to these disgusting statements but was quick to warn and censor radio stations that carried statements which were critical of the government has fuelled the perception that Mr Peterson’s political bias has led to blatant political discrimination with a policy of ‘different strokes for different folks’.”

Siewsaran said Peterson received numerous lucrative legal briefs from the Office of the Attorney General. 

He claimed that Justice Lambert-Peterson failed to address the consequence of the TTRA being allowed to operate and collect taxes from citizens and then subsequently be found to be illegal if Dhoray succeeds in her substantive case. 

“Another point which was not addressed by the Court is that the enforcement powers and authority given to officers in the BIR and CED are analogous to the coercive powers given to police officers and hence the danger of allowing the government to have direct power and control over the TTRA creates the dangerous possibility of the government creating a political army with loyal supporters who can do their bidding,” he said. 

In the substantive lawsuit, Dhoray is challenging the constitutional validity of the T&T Revenue Act 2021, which prescribed the long-touted shift.

She is contending that certain segments of the legislation are unconstitutional as they seek to interfere with the terms and conditions of employment of public servants currently assigned to the CED and IRD. 

The lawsuit specifically focuses on Section 18 of the legislation which was proclaimed by President Christine Kangaloo on April 24.

The section gives public servants three months to make a decision on their future employment upon the operationalisation of the TTRA.