Flashback 2010: Former justice minister Hubert Volney shows a rubber snake during the launch of his election campaign in St Joseph.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar fired Justice Minister Herbert Volney yesterday for misrepresenting to Cabinet the opinions of the Chief Justice and Director of Public Prosecutions on the early proclamation of Section 34
Christlyn Moore, an attorney from Lambeau, Tobago, will be appointed the new Justice Minister. She is to be sworn in as a senator today. Announcing the move last night, Persad-Bissessar said she met with Volney, MP for St Joseph, on Wednesday and he had admitted the error. She added: “On behalf of my Government I express sincere apologies to the people of T&T, the President, the Parliament, the Chief Justice and the Director of Public Prosecutions.” Volney was conspicuously absent from the Cabinet gathering when the PM made her announcement.
Stating Volney had given erroneous advice to the Cabinet, the PM said: “The minister had a duty to faithfully and accurately represent the position and views of the CJ and DPP and he failed so to do and the Cabinet, relying in good faith, acted on his assurances. “His failure so to do is a serious mis-representation and amounts to material non-disclosure of relevant facts to the Cabinet which effectively prevented the Cabinet from making an informed decision.” Volney is the third senior minister to be fired in the PP’s 28-month tenure. Mary King was fired as Planning and Development Minister on May 10 2010 and Colin Partap was fired as Minister in the Ministry of National Security on August 25. The Prime Minister broke her silence on the issue after discussion on it at yesterday’s Cabinet session. Her statement came two days after PNM leader Keith Rowley and other parties and groups in T&T demanded an explanation from her and called for Volney and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to be fired. Persad-Bissessar’s administration has suffered heavy fire in the last two weeks since a T&T Guardian story discovered Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act had been proclaimed and concerns were raised that businessmen Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson might walk free as a result. Government hastily repealed the section in emergency sittings of both Houses of Parliament. This move was supported by the Opposition PNM but only half of the Independent Senate bench.
Yesterday, after the Cabinet meeting at the PM’s St Clair office, the Cabinet reconvened at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, where Persad-Bissessar made her announcement at 7.30 pm. Sitting at the PM’s side at the head table were TOP leader Ashworth Jack, COP leader Prakash Ramadhar and NJAC leader Makandal Daaga. Persad-Bissessar said she had personally enquired into the circumstances that led to the situation. She said a Cabinet note of August 6, 2012 contained the answer to why Section 34 came to be proclaimed. It was discussed in Cabinet on August 9. The PM said the bill approved by the Legislative Review Committee and by the Cabinet did not contain the version of Section 34 that was eventually passed by both Houses of Parliament. Without LRC or Cabinet oversight, an amended version was passed by all members of the Senate which changed the limitation of prosecution for certain offences from ten years from the date of charge to ten years from the date of commission. Persad-Bissessar said at the Cabinet meeting she asked Volney if the CJ and DPP were consulted on the early proclamation of Section 34 and Volney said he had the support of both. The PM said Cabinet approval was predicated on the assurance that the DPP and the Judiciary were adequately consulted.
Persad-Bissessar said the Chief Parliamentary Counsel told her the Attorney General did not participate in the process. He was out of the country from July 20 to August 4. Soon after the section was proclaimed, she said, the DPP expressed his concerns to the AG and the section was later repealed in Parliament. The PM said she later contacted the CJ on the early proclamation and Cabinet’s understanding of the situation from the minister’s account. She asked the CJ for a report and he submitted one, together with notes from a July 24 meeting of the inter-ministerial/judicial task force on the bill. After meeting with the CJ on Wednesday, Persad-Bissessar said, she was now satisfied there was no proper or adequate consultation with either the CJ or DPP and she was also satisfied that both legitimately expected there would be no partial proclamation of the act, as Volney had given assurances to that effect at the July 24 meeting. “So it was implausible they supported the measure for partial proclamation,” the PM said. In fact, she said, it was clear the CJ at no stage agreed to the proclamation and he expressed reservations when he gave approval for the entire act for January 2013. Persad-Bissessar said Volney’s appointment was revoked immediately yesterday. “The integrity of my Government will not be compromised by anyone, regardless of the office they hold. I hold everyone entrusted to their job accountable,” the PM said.
May 2011: Mary King fired from Planning Ministry.
June 2012: Cabinet reshuffle.
July 2012: Cabinet reshuffle.
August 2012: Cumuto MP Collin Partap fired as Minister of State in Ministry of National Security.
September 2012: Herbert Volney fired as Justice Minister.
About Christlyn Moore
Christlyn Moore, a Tobago-born attorney, was one of the Prime Minister’s three-member committee working on the Green Paper on internal self-government for Tobago. She was one of the members of the legal team representing Gladys Gafoor in the integrity commission matter. Her last appointment was at the Office of the Attorney General. She is a part of the legal team representing Attorney General Anand Ramlogan in his defamation claim against Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley for statements he made at a media conference relating to the court’s ruling on proceedings involving the extradition of former UNC financiers Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson, last year. Moore is the attorney who sent a pre-action protocol letter on behalf of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to the Daily Express for publication of a story on March 27. The article claimed residents living near the private residence of Persad-Bissessar in Phillipine, south Trinidad, were selling their homes and land in search of peace.
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