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By Keino Swamber

Industrial Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix receives her 'instrument of appointment' from President George Maxwell Richards during yesterday's ceremony at Knowsley, Queen's Park West. —Photo: ROBERTO CODALLO

NEWLY-appointed president of the Industrial Court Deborah Thomas-Felix said trade unionists and employers can be assured of the impartiality of its members.

This is Thomas-Felix's second appointment to the Industrial Court.

Following her resignation as Deputy Chief Magistrate in 2003, Thomas-Felix was appointed as a member of the Industrial Court and served until 2009 when she resigned to establish her own law and consultancy firm providing services in Labour Law, Family and Civil Law and International Commercial Arbitration.

Thomas-Felix was administered the oath of office by President George Maxwell-Richards at Knowsley, Queen's Park West, Port of Spain yesterday.

Attending the brief ceremony were Chief Justice Ivor Archie and relatives of Thomas-Felix including her mother.

Asked about her departure from the magistracy when she challenged the decision of then Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls to transfer her to the San Fernando Magistrates' Court, Thomas-Felix said yesterday she did not view the move as controversial at the time.

"I viewed the move as necessary at the time," Thomas-Felix said.

"But I am very humbled to be given this appointment at this time. Nowhere in my projection for my career path did I anticipate that this would happen."

Thomas-Felix said she intends to meet with the various stakeholders, including trade unions and the various Chambers of Commerce, as early as possible.

"One of the most important roles of the Court is to make sure there is a smooth and good balance in industrial relations in Trinidad and Tobago. We subscribe to good Industrial Relations practices and we are about developing that good relation between employer and employee.

"I am sure you will agree that the employer/employee relationship helps with the development of any country and in Trinidad and Tobago that is crucial right now."

Thomas-Felix said she sees very little difference between her role as a Deputy Chief Magistrate and president of the Industrial Court since both involve administrative functions.

Included among her priorities is the issue of security of tenure for members of the Court.

"Judges in the court come for a fixed term and at the end of the term there is this nail-biting moment and everyone is on tender-hooks trying to figure out if their contract would be renewed.

"I do not think it does well for the independence of the Court, for the credibility of the Court and for industrial relations on a whole."

Thomas-Felix said those who make up the Court, five short of the required 22, are ready, willing and able to deal with any matter which may come before them especially in this heightened industrial relations climate.

"The industrial relations climate is the type of climate we normally get from time to time and we deal with it and apply the law as we think the law should be applied. I don't think there would be any major problems."

Thomas-Felix said the perception by some that the members of the Court may be or have been subject to political influence is certainly not true.

"In my tenure at the Industrial Court I have never had any form of Government interference. You know the public is of the view that the Government, whichever it is, gets involved and call judges and all of that.

"I am not aware that the Government will in any way interfere in the functioning of any court and I don't anticipate it will happen in this case. I do not think that any court needs Government support. I think that the court is impartial, stands on its own and is independent.

"At the end of the day you make objective and impartial decisions and therefore, like in anything else that is adversarial, some will agree and some will not agree.

"What I can say as president is that I can assure anybody that there will always be impartiality from the Judges. I had six years in the court and I have never heard a judge express a political view. They may have some political background or whatever, I don't know. But when you sit as judges, the question of politics is never an issue. There is never a discussion."

    Trinidad Express Newspaper. 14 December 2011, p. 16.