A visibly frustrated chairman of the Employment Rights Tribunal Hal Gollop, QC, yesterday afternoon condemned the behaviour of legal counsel for the National Conservation Commission (NCC) for persistently setting back the hearing into the contentious retrenchment of some 200 NCC workers.
For the second time in as many days, resumption of the hearing had to be adjourned – indefinitely, this time – because the commission’s lawyer Mitchell “Mitch” Codrington failed to turn up and asked for a deferment.
These latest postponements came after a more than two-month hiatus during which time the tribunal contended it had been doing its best to have the hearing recommence, but was unsuccessful because attorneys had issues with their scheduling.
Gollop was even more peeved when Codrington failed to attend today’s sitting even though “we were given the assurance after a request for an adjournment by counsel for the Commission that he would be available today.”
Gollop referred to a letter from Codrington that was hand-delivered to him yesterday requesting another adjournment because there had been no significant improvement in his condition.
“This is the fourth time that an adjournment has been sought on behalf of the Commission. That is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. It has gone beyond the bounds of reasonableness,” an upset tribunal head said.
He lamented that the law was not clear on whether or not the hearing could continue unless everyone was present, and suggested that now was the time for Parliament to amend the relevant Act to address this issue.
“It is about time that some of these lacunae [gaps] were addressed, and that is one of them. If the tribunal is to do its work, there cannot be this level of unreasonableness in respect of the parties involved – and notice I said the parties involved – because it is the responsibility of the parties to see that their counsels are present; and they should be present at all times,” the Queen’s Counsel strongly suggested.
The judicial body’s chairman also tore into Codrington for his recommended alternative dates for the hearing. The NCC attorney said he would be available on December 23, 24, 29 and 30.
“Mr Codrington has suggested some dates which are available to him. Personally I think the suggested dates are unreasonable and do not take into consideration that a tribunal like this functions on the efforts and responsibilities of public servants . . . I must express my absolute abhorrence that this could be suggested to a tribunal that is sitting in
an important matter like this and has been making every effort to get this matter heard and concluded,” an angry Gollop said.
Directing his concluding remarks to General Manager of the NCC Keith Neblett and counsel for complainant Cutie Lynch, he cautioned that such behaviour was unsatisfactory and would no longer be tolerated.
Gollop said dates would be set on which the hearing must proceed and that it was up to the parties involved to ensure they were represented by their attorneys.
“It is their duty to choose which counsel they want and have them here present,” he added.
Gollop then turned his attention to the attorney for Lynch and by extension the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Paterson Cheltenham, who he accepted had requested adjournments on humanitarian grounds and had been accommodated.
“But on the other hand, Mr Cheltenham made it quite clear early that he would be able to proceed, when we thought he might not be able to, and he is here and his other associate was here yesterday,” the tribunal chairman pointed out.
Asked to comment on Gollop’s remarks, Neblett said he noted the concerns of the tribunal and would inform the board of management when they meet tomorrow.
However, while stating that he could not speak for management’s attorney, he told the tribunal he wanted the matter resolved quickly.
“I am ready,” he stressed.