Chief Justice Ivor Archie has assured citizens that their rights have not been suspended with the declaration of the State of Emergency.
Archie gave the assurance while delivering the feature address at yesterday's opening of the 2011/2012 law term at the Convocation Hall of the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain.
The opening ceremony was attended by acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, House Speaker Wade Mark and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, among others.
The Chief Justice noted that Trinidad and Tobago is in the midst of a State of Emergency "and the reasons for it are the source of many concerns".
Stating that the country is not experiencing an armed insurrection and "there has been no coup", Archie said there is no reason to panic. "Contrary to opinions expressed in uninformed circles, the Constitution has not been suspended," Archie said.
"The President has issued a proclamation of a State of Emergency pursuant to the Constitution. It sounds a little obvious when one states it, but clearly, the Constitution can't suspend itself!
"Those provisions of the Constitution that protect and preserve fundamental rights have not been suspended or pushed aside," Archie said.
Explaining that there is some temporary and limited restriction on the exercising of rights, Archie said: "Section 13 of the Constitution makes it clear that any Acts or Regulations passed during a period of public emergency that are inconsistent with the fundamental rights, provisions of the Constitution shall be effective only so far as they may be reasonably justifiable for the purpose of dealing with the situation that exists during that period. "So the exercise of emergency powers is subject to the Constitution,"Archie said.
Archie said the courts "are the arbiter of what is constitutional, and in the case of the arrest or detention of any person, what is lawful". Assuring that the judiciary continues to stand ready to perform its constitutional function, Archie said judges and magistrates are committed to maintaining balance and the rule of law.
"I would not wish for you to entertain any unnecessary doubts or apprehension on that score. Citizens may continue to have access to the courts for the protection and vindication of their rights," Archie said.
Declaring he has no intention of placing blame on any individual, or even debating whether the State of Emergency should have been declared or not, Archie said emphasis on such matters "will not take us forward".
"We would not have gotten into this mess if we didn't, collectively, make some wrong choices. We will not get out of it by doing business as usual," Archie said.
Noting that the temporary respite should be used for reflection and refocus, Archie said citizens should reflect on their core values and question themselves about the type of society they want to build.