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A burning question for the Industrial Court to answer.

Does the Industrial Court have jurisdiction to bring contempt of court proceedings against Chief Executive Officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce Gabriel Faria, businessman Frank Mouttet, and attorney Derek Ali, over statements made at a panel discussion hosted by the chamber, last month?

That issue will engage the court before it embarks on any contempt proceeding against the three.

Attorneys representing the three raised the issue of the court’s jurisdiction as well as provisions under the Constitution which permit the members of the court to refer to the High Court, any allegation of constitutional impropriety. The three attended the hearing at the Industrial Court on Tuesday.

Presiding over the proceedings were Industrial Court President Deborah Thomas-Felix, and members Larry Achong, Ramchand Lutchmedial, and Albert Aberdeen.

Christopher Hamel-Smith, SC, who represents the Chamber and its chief executive, said there were serious questions that arise on whether the court could embark on the contempt inquiry at all. He said the court could not be prosecutor and judge in the same matter.

Also raising questions on the court’s jurisdiction was Fyard Hosein, SC, who represents Mouttet.

He said the subpoena issued to his client was extraordinary and also raised the issue of freedom of expression and self-incrimination as his client was asked to furnish the court with copies of all reports, interviews, inserts, programmes, audiovisual clips and CCTV footage in prints and electronic, inclusive of blogs, and commentary pertaining to a breakfast meeting held by the Chamber on November 30, under the theme “The Impact of Industrial Court Judgments on your Business.”

Hosein asked that the jurisdiction and constitutional points be heard before the court embarks on any contempt proceedings.

“The court has to ensure that its reputation is enhanced and maintained. Let us clarify those issues first,” he said. Attorneys are expected to file their applications by December 29 and their submissions by January 31. The matter has been adjourned to February 10.

Senior Counsel Reginald Armour, who represents Ali, also raised the issue of the court’s jurisdiction as well as the constitutional claims.

During the panel discussion at the Chamber on November 30, Mouttet blamed the court for low productivity in the country and described the court as harsh and oppressive in its judgments, favoring workers and unions against employers, while Ali called for a lobby for pro-business judges on the Industrial Court bench.

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