Derek Achong

A High Court Judge is calling for the resumption of normal activity at courthouses across T&T.

Justice Frank Seepersad made the call yesterday just before he delivered final judgement in a short trial, which was held in a courtroom at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain.

Seepersad said: “Either we say we surrender to the risk and business falls or we efficiently manage the risks and we move forward.”

While Seepersad noted that virtual courts using video conferencing were useful while most of the Government’s public health regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic were in place, he said the technology could not fully replace physical hearings.

Questioning the sanctity of evidence presented by witnesses, Seepersad pointed to the fact that in virtual courts, witnesses are allowed to testify from their lawyers’ offices and could be improperly prompted when responding to questions.

Seepersad also noted that due to frequent connectivity issues between parties, virtual trials take almost twice as long as their traditional counterparts.

Referring to practice directions from Chief Justice Ivor Archie, which encouraged virtual hearings during the height of the Government’s measures and are set to expire on June 15, Seepersad also questioned why the Judiciary did not take steps to place sinks outside of court locations in preparation for a potential resumption of normal services.

“I am concerned that access to justice is being restricted,” Seepersad said.

Seepersad noted that with the consent of the litigants, he was able to host the trial in a courtroom while still adequately adhere to social distancing and sanitation requirements.

In the case before him, Seepersad was asked by a woman to set aside a letter of comfort, that her ex-husband received from the Land Settlement Agency (LSA) for a property in Couva, before their marriage collapsed in 2003.

In the lawsuit, Warisa Hosein claimed that her ex-husband Fyzal and his brother Fareed lived on the property with their uncle Fiyaz for almost a decade before they got married in 1998.

The four relatives lived at the property, which was on State land, for several years before they decided that Hosein and Fyzal should regularise the arrangement in their names as they were a married couple.

Hosein claimed that she thought that she would be named in the letter but admitted that she did not sign the documents as she was still a minor at the time.

Fyzal moved out of the house while the process was ongoing and Hosein eventually married her brother-in-law Fareed, had three children, and they remained on the property.

Although Fyzal signed a document, in which he agreed that his brother had rights over the home on the land built by Fiyaz with their assistance, the LSA issued the letter of comfort in Fyzal’s name.

In defence of the lawsuit, Fyzal claimed that he was coerced into signing the documents and that he was forcibly evicted from the home.

In his oral judgment, Seepersad noted that Hosein could not be listed on the document not because she was a minor but due to the fact that she would have begun living at the property after the deadline set under the legislation, which provided for the regularisation of the State land, had elapsed.

Seepersad noted that his decision did not mean that Hosein, Fareed, their children, and Fiyaz could be evicted as they had obtained an injunction barring such.

He also noted that letter of comfort, such as the one issued to Fyzal, just protected against eviction by the State and conferred no property rights, which could facilitate its potential sale.

Hosein was represented by Alexander Prince while Chris Selochan represented Fyzal.