Oilfields Workers' Trade Union v Hydro-Agri Trinidad Ltd (Formerly Federation Chemicals Ltd)

JurisdictionTrinidad & Tobago
JudgeKhan, V.P.
Judgment Date18 May 1998
CourtIndustrial Court (Trinidad and Tobago)
Docket NumberT.D. 184/80
Date18 May 1998

Industrial Court

Khan, V.P.; Harris, M.

T.D. 184/80

Oilfields Workers' Trade Union
and
Hydro-Agri Trinidad Limited (Formerly Federation Chemicals Limited)
Appearances:

A. Alexander, S.C. ( D. Mendes with him), for Union.

P. Babwah & C. Hamel-Smith, Attorneys at Law, for Employer.

Cases considered and referred to in Ruling:

Alfred Charles v. The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago (H.C.A. 433/95 (1995)

Allen v. Sir Alfred Mc Alpine and Sons Ltd. [1968] 2 Q.B. 229 (CA)

Attorney General and Another v. Antigua Times Ltd. [1975] 3 All E.R. 81 (PC)

Attorney General's Reference (No. 1 of 1990) [1992] 1 Q.B. 630 (CA)

Barker v. Wingo [1972] 407 US 514 (United States Supreme Court)

Bell v. Director of Public Prosecutions of Jamaica [1985] 2 All E.R. 585 (PC)

Birkett v. James [1977] 2 All E.R. 801 [HL]

Biss v. Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Health Authority [1978] 2 All E.R. 125 (CA)

Bolton v Bolton [1949] 2 All E.R. 908 (CA)

British Reinforced Concrete Engineering Ca Ltd.'s Application [1929] 45 T.L.R. 186

Chua Chee Chor v. Chua Kim Yong and Others [1963] 1 All E.R. 102 (PC)

Coleshill v. Manchester Corporation [1928] 1 K.B. 776 (CA)

Connelly v. Director of Public Prosecutions [1964] 2 All E.R. 401 (HL)

Eagil Trust Ca. Ltd. v. Pigott-Brown and Another [1985] 3 All E.R. 119 (CA)

H.M.S. Vanity [1946] 79 Lloyd L.R. 594

Jago v The District Court of New South Wales and Others [1989] 168 C.L.R. (Australian High Court)

Kemraj Harrikissoon v. The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago 31 W.I.R. 348 (PC)

Marsland v. Taggart [1928] 2 K.B. 447 (CA)

Nankissoon Boodram v. Attorney General and Another (1995) 47 W.I.R. 459 (PC)

Nutrimix Feeds Ltd. and United Hatcheries Limited and O.W.T.U. (CA. 120/92 & 132/93) (1995)

R v. Cameron [1982] 6 W.W.R. 270 (Alberta Queen's Bench Court)

R v. Lawrence [1981] 1 All E.R. 974 (HL)

Ramnarine Jorsingh and The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago (CA. 144/90 (1997)

Ramnarine Jorsingh v. The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago (H.C.A. 2048/84) (1985)

Rath and another v. CS Lawrence & Partners and others [1991] 3 All E.R. 679

Schtun v. Zalejska [1996] 3 All E.R. 411 (CA)

Sieuraj Sookermany v. Director of Public Prosecutions and Another (1996) 48 W.I.R. 346

Smith and Another v. L.J. Williams Ltd. (1982) 32 W.I.R. 395

Sundry Workers (represented by the Antigua Workers' Union) and the Antigua Hotel and Tourist Association (P.C.A. 35/91) [1993] (PC)

Tan v. Cameron [1992] 2 A.C. 205 (PC)

The Atlantic Star [1973] 2 All E.R. 175 (HL)

The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago v. Ramnarine Jorsingh (C.A. 168/85) (1990)

The Forest Lake [1966] 3 All E.R. 833 (CA)

The Hopemount [1943] 75 Lloyd L.R. 94

Thomas (Arthur) v. The Queen [1979] 2 All E.R. 142 (PC)

Tokai (Jailtaran) v. Director of Public Prosecutions and Another (1994) 48 W.I.R. 423 (PC)

Trill and Another v. Sacker and Others [1993] 1 All E.R. 961 (CA)

William Duncan and The Attorney General (H.C.A. 859/96) (1997)

Statutes referred to:

Australian Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, 1904, s. 39

Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, ss. 4, 5, 14

ss. 7(1), 7(5), 8(1), (2), 9(1), 10(1), (3), 11(c), 13(2), (3), 17, 18, 82

I.S.A., Act 8/65

Supreme Court of Judicature Act, Chap. 4311, 18(2)

Employment law - Application — Permanent stay of hearing of trade dispute — Hearing de novo — Reserved judgment pending 18 years — Retirement of entire original bench of General Services Division — Duty of Court — Whether fair hearing still possible — Whether hearing de novo an infringement of constitutional rights of company — Whether hearing de novo unfair and prejudicial to company — Inordinate delay of judgment — Power of Court to grant permanent stay of hearing — Whether statutory duty imposed on Court to deliver judgments expeditiously

RULING ON APPLICATION BY COMPANY FOR PERMANENT STAY OF HEARING OF TRADE DISPUTE
Khan, V.P.
I. THE QUESTIONS TO BE DETERMINED
1

The issues which arise for determination in this application involve significant questions which are of fundamental importance not only to the Industrial Court (“the Court”) but to all courts in Trinidad and Tobago which have the responsibility for concluding cases by the delivery of written judgments. As far as I am aware, this is the first occasion on which such an application has been made in the Court. I am of the view. therefore, that it is necessary for me to give the fullest consideration to all the relevant implications of this extremely important matter. In the event, in this Ruling, I take the risk of sacrificing brevity for detail.

2

The principal question to be decided in these proceedings is whether a permanent stay of this trade dispute should be granted because of the failure of a bench of the General Services Division of the Court (“the original bench”) to deliver judgment following the completion of the original hearing of this trade dispute (“the original hearing”) despite a lapse of time of approximately 16 years. In this context, it is also necessary to consider what is the duty of the Court when the entire bench which heard a trade dispute retired from the Court without having delivered judgment in the dispute. One would say that such a situation should never have arisen, but it has, and it is necessary for the Court to find a solution to the problem which would cause no injustice to the parties or either of them, in particular, and which is consonant with the administration of justice in general.

3

In ordinary civil proceedings, the grant of a permanent stay to a defendant is always a draconian step since it interferes with the plaintiff's rights to have his claim processed, heard and determined. Generally, an application for a permanent stay is an application to a court not to exercise its jurisdiction to hear and determine a cause or matter. A court does not lightly accept an invitation to decline jurisdiction since adjudication is the raison d'etre for the establishment and existence of the Court in the first place.

II. THE BACKGROUND CIRCUMSTANCES
4

The issue giving rise to this dispute arose on October 15, 1979 when Hydro-Agri Trinidad Limited (formerly known as Federation Chemicals Limited (“the Company”) dismissed Anthony Parris (“the worker”) from his employment. The Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (“the Union”) reported the dispute to the Minister with responsibility for the subject of labour on April 9, 1980 in accordance with the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act, Chap.88:01 (“the Act). Having been unsuccessful in settling the dispute by conciliation, the Minister issued his certificate of unresolved dispute on November 10, 1980. On November 24, 1980, the Union requested the Court to hear and determine the dispute. The Court gave directions for the hearing of the dispute on December 12, 1980. The Union presented its written statement of case to the Court on February 6, 1981 and the Company presented its written statement of case on February 13, 1981. The hearing of the dispute began before the original bench on February 27, 1981 and was completed on July 2, 1982, when the original bench reserved its judgment (“the reserved judgment”). Four persons, Paul Gurley, Wilton Leiba, Terrence Marfleet, and Edgar Barrington, gave evidence for the Company at the original hearing. For some unknown reason or reasons, the original bench never delivered the reserved judgment. Consequent upon the retirement of one of the two judges who comprised the original bench on October 31, 1989, it was still possible for the remaining judge to deliver the reserved judgment in accordance with the provisions of s. 7(5) of the Act. Section 7(5) states:

“Where in any proceedings before two or more members of the Court a vacancy occurs in the membership in relation to such proceedings by reason of the inability from any cause of any member to continue to function, the remaining member or members may, subject to subsection (6), continue to hear and determine those proceedings notwithstanding such vacancy, and no act, proceedings or determination of the Court shall be called in question or invalidated by reason of such vacancy.”

5

However, when the remaining judge himself retired on October 31, 1992, it was no longer possible for the reserved judgment to be delivered.

6

Moreover, and also very regrettably, not only did the Court fail to deliver the reserved judgment but the verbatim notes of evidence taken at the original hearing cannot be found.

7

It was in these unfortunate circumstances that the Court ordered that the dispute be heard de novo and summoned the parties to attend for the purpose of proceeding with a hearing of the dispute, albeit de novo.

Ill. THE COURT'S DUTY
8

Once a court is seised of proceedings, it retains control over them. In the circumstances, the trade dispute continued to be pending before the General Services' Division of the Court as an unresolved trade dispute. Notwithstanding the failure of the original bench to deliver the reserved judgment, it was the clear duty of the Court to list the trade dispute to be heard de novo and to re-hear the dispute, provided, of course, that a fair hearing of the dispute was still possible. As Shearman, J. observed in Ailarsland v. Taggart [1928] 2 K.B. 447 at page 450:

“Justices come and go, but justice itself should endure”.

9

The decision to hear the dispute de novo was therefore, in the interest of both parties to the dispute. Since it was no longer possible for the judgment to be delivered by the original bench, the only way the rights and obligations of the parties were to be determined was by a hearing of the dispute de nova in the absence of the union discontinuing the dispute, it can...

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