There is no “constitutional impropriety” in the proposed legislation which Parliament “can pass without the intervention of the Salaries Review Commission”, Fenton Ramsahoye, QC, stated in an opinion to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan on the Judges Salaries and Pension Amendment Bill.
Also giving an opinion was British lawyer Timothy Straker, QC, who argued the legislation did not represent a “scattering of largesse by the Government on serving judges”, but “the correction of a social wrong present in the case of retired judges”.
“True, it is that serving judges may suppose that it reflects an attitude that indicates judges, when retired, will be maintained, but that view ought in any event to be present and its manifestation is not something that undermines the independence of the serving judiciary,” Straker stated. He said the “functions and obligations” of the Salaries Review Commission are left “entirely unaffected” by the bill. He said the provisions of the Constitution that give existence to the commission “do not preclude legislative action in respect of the service terms of the judges”.
“Further, and with even more strength, the provisions do not preclude legislative action in respect of the retired judiciary, especially the retired judiciary who have fallen on hard times,” Straker added.
Ramsahoye said judges were at the heart of the rule of law and the society had an interest in ensuring that when they are retired from service, they are able to live until death with a measure of comfort and that their widows should be able to maintain a reasonable standard appropriate to their condition.
“The improvement of benefits payable to judges on retirement is essentially a matter for the legislature, which has the power to tax and spend and which is aware of the changing conditions in the society,” he said. “The amending legislation which is proposed is essentially a matter for the peace, order and good government of Trinidad and Tobago by ensuring that the judges who, while in service have supported the rule of law, should until death live in comfort and dignity.” —Ria Taitt