Prominent attorney takes strong offence to CCJ ruling
He was among three prominent Barbadian attorneys who were recently criticized by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) for their handling of an appeal case.
And Queen’s Counsel Vernon Smith is not taking the matter lying down.
Following the court’s dismissal last Thursday of a submission filed by him and two others – Hal Gollop, QC and Steve Gollop –– Smith told Barbados TODAY he was “very offended” by the judgment handed down by the Trinidad-based court in the appeal case brought by Systems Sales Ltd.
In fact, he described it as “diatribe”, while expressing outrage that the regional court, which is this island’s final court of appeal, had spent more time criticizing the legal applicants and other members of the Barbadian judiciary, rather than dealing with points of law or their submissions.
“When I read it [the judgment], I was absolutely amazed. It was a judgment by way of diatribe.
It dealt with no issues whatsoever related to anything we had submitted or any points of law that we had raised in the whole matter,” Smith declared.
The Queen’s Counsel also said the CCJ judgment was not the norm, even before the UK-based Privy Council.
“I took strong objection to the fact that the judgment was about criticizing and denigrating the judges of our High Court and Court of Appeal; and also denigrating junior counsel who had dealt in the matter by alleging negligence on their part,” added Smith.
The senior attorney-at-law also sought to defend his reputation, saying he had nothing to do with the proceedings until the application for special leave to appeal came before the court.
“I did not have anything to do with the drafting of the application for the appeal; and to suggest and imply negligence on the part of Mr Gollop and myself in the matter is highly deplorable.
“Even to make [these criticisms] of junior counsel, is not what a court should do. Courts should not make value judgments of that sort, especially if they have not looked at any point of law which was referred to them,” Smith suggested.
In its February 12, 2015 judgment, CCJ president Justice Sir Dennis Byron noted that it had taken the Barbados courts 16 years to resolve the matter involving land developer Systems Sales Ltd, against Arletta Brown-Oxley, the executrix of the estate of now deceased Glenfield DaCosta Suttle and his widow Sonja Patsena Suttle.
And in a scathing attack on Barbadian judges, the court accused them of “denying parties justice through inordinate delays in concluding cases”.
Smith has responded saying the CCJ was not the kind of court with which Barbados should be associated.
“And I would recommend that no other country in the Caribbean adopts them as a court of appeal, especially a final court of appeal,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“The CCJ is a Barbados court. I did not go to Trinidad and I would not go to Trinidad in a foreign jurisdiction to have a case in which I am involved, where all the parties are Barbadians. The cause of action is in Barbados and the property is in Barbados. I am not going in any foreign jurisdiction for a case like that to be heard,” Smith declared.
He noted that the court made reference to respecting the bench, but he was adamant that respect must go both ways.
“And from their [CCJ] conduct of the proceedings in respect of me, I don’t see how they could ever, ever expect to have my respect. I want the people of this country see what has happened when they moved away from the Privy Council,” said an angry Smith.
The topic of Barbados’ involvement in the CCJ also came up in the House of Assembly today where
Minister of International Business Donville Inniss said there was something fundamentally wrong with the fact that 10 years after the establishment of the court, Barbados, which was the first to sign on and pay all its dues, still did not have a judge on that panel.
“And there are those who sit in lofty positions in this country, who I can hear this morning saying that that should not be an issue; that the CCJ is there for everybody [and] we should not make nationality an issue,” Inniss pointed out.
However, he pointed out that two Barbadians recently applied to be judges on the CCJ “and not one was successful” even though “another Trinidadian got through”.
He also highlighted the fact that while Trinidad was the court’s headquarters, it did not support the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ.