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AG: Don’t blame me for Clause 34 fiasco (CNC3 video included)
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan yesterday said the early proclamation of the controversial Section 34 was aimed at clearing the backlog of cases in the local courts. He rejected suggestions that it was designed to create a loophole for businessmen Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson to escape prosecution. Ramlogan was speaking yesterday with members of the media after the opening of the new law term of the Industrial Court, St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain.
He said he did not feel that Section 34 was rushed to be proclaimed to deal with any specific case. He said the law was only to help the backlog of cases before the courts at this time. Ramlogan said because the Government had no influence on the court system, he believed the law would have helped to expedite cases that have been languishing in the judicial system.
He insisted he attended Cabinet meetings when Section 34 was being discussed, but believes the right ministry has been held accountable. This, even though Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bisessar had said in her address to the nation on September 20 on the controversial Section 34 that the Attorney General was on vacation when the decisions about the now repealed act were taking place.
“I don't think the Prime Minister’s statement ever said that I wasn’t present at the Cabinet meeting,” he said. “The point is at the Cabinet meeting you have the individual responsibility of the minister, which she stressed, who would have given the advice to Cabinet, and it was based on representations and assurances that were given to the effect that, you know, the Chief Justice had approved of the proclamation and the timeline and it is on that basis that Cabinet acted.
“The line minister with responsibility for the bill is the Minister of Justice and he said publicly, prior to his being relieved of his duties, that he accepted full responsibility for the matter. He having said as line minister that he accepted full responsibility for the matter, I think it is really now down to political gamesmanship to now call for the head of anybody else.”
Ramlogan added that the AG’s responsibility to advice the Cabinet on matters of the law usually applied to civil court matters as opposed to criminal matters. He said the Ministry of Justice was specifically designed to deal with criminal matters.
“Although the Attorney General is the legal adviser to the Cabinet, bear in mind there are two branches of law,” he said.
“There is a civil branch and a criminal branch, and no lawyer should present themselves as an expert in every area of the law. In the last four or five Attorneys General we have not had an Attorney General from the criminal bar.
“I have never done a criminal case, save my first year in practice, for all my years of practice, and I make that point although the Attorney General is the legal adviser to the Cabinet, when we created the Ministry of Justice, the criminal portfolio was assigned to that ministry and the gazetted allocation of ministerial responsibility placed criminal legislation and the reform of the criminal justice system under that particular ministry. That meant therefore that the staff with the expertise in criminal law will go to that ministry.” He said he did not have any criminal lawyers in his ministry.
“The Government does not control the courts, we don’t control the prosecution, but these cases should be put on a fast track and we should convene an ad hoc Dole Chadee-type court outside of the loop from the regular system to try these cases on a day-to-day basis until completion,” Ramlogan said. “I still feel that is the only way that justice will be done in these cases and it’s left to be seen but I am hopeful.”
He added that it was common to have amendments passed during debates on the floor of the Parliament without the knowledge of the Law Reform Commission (LRC). There was an oversight in the early proclamation of Section 34 by the entire Parliament and not just the Government, he said. Ramlogan said he was sure that the Government would not persuaded by any bullying tactics to call a general election.
“I think what is happening now is Dr Rowley is trying to cement his position as the political leader of a party that has three factions…the Imbert faction, the Rowley faction and Manning faction,” he said. “So what you really have is a coalition opposition that is trying to unite itself so that it can present itself as a credible alternative to the Government. That is not going to work.
“Cries for early elections are perhaps nostalgic because of his own experience under his own party…where they twice called early elections, destabilised the country and lost on both counts. "Dr Rowley has a history of bullying and behaving in a manner that his own Prime Minister described as wajang and hooligan. Such political hooliganism and wajang behaviour will not be tolerated by the People's Partnership.
“Their job is to oppose not propose. Our job is to govern and we have a mandate for five years and we will govern this country. Dr Rowley will not bully this government. This is not a PNM Cabinet where he can pelt teacups, remote controls and get on like a hooligan and that kind of wajang behaviour that former Prime Minister Patrick Manning alluded to.”He also said that PNM's march and political pressure placed on the Prime Minister had nothing to do her decision to remove Volney from office.
Timeline of the controversial clause
November 8, 2011
Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh quashes an order to extradite businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson to the US on charges of misconduct arising from the Piarco Airport Project. Boodoosingh says T&T is the correct forum to try them.
November 11, 2011
Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Bill is laid in the House of Representatives.
Bill is debated in the House of Representatives with its original Section 34 provision that someone cannot be tried for an offence if seven years have elapsed since the court proceedings started. The Government proposes that this period be changed to ten years.
The bill is debated in the Senate. Justice Minister Herbert Volney moves an amendment to Section 34 for the statutory ten-year limitation to run from the date on which the offence was committed rather than from the start of criminal proceedings.
President George Maxwell Richards assents to the act and it awaits proclamation.
Queen’s Counsel James Lewis, who was retained by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to advise on the extradition of Galbaransingh and Ferguson, is told they will receive a speedy trial in T&T. As a result of this assurance, Lewis advises against appealing.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan says in a statement that “the ends of justice” will be served by foregoing the appeal and allowing criminal prosecution of Galbaransingh and Ferguson to proceed in the local courts. He says that decision is based on the advice given to him by Lewis.
The United States Embassy expresses disappointment at the AG’s decision not to appeal Boodoosingh's decision not to extradite Galbaransingh and Ferguson.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan leaves T&T on an overseas trip.
Justice Minister Herbert Volney meets with Chief Justice Ivor Archie, Minister of Public Administration Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, acting Attorney General Ganga Singh, Minister of National Security Jack Warner and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, at the Hall of Justice to discuss Section 34.
Attorney General Ramlogan returns to T&T.
On the basis of a note presented by Justice Minister Herbert Volney, Cabinet agrees to the proclamation of Section 34 ahead of the other sections of the act.
President George Maxwell Richards signs a proclamation to bring Section 34 into effect on August 31.
Section 34 is proclaimed.
Sunday Guardian reports: “Ish and Steve to walk free: Piarco cases to be dropped, inquiries scrapped.”
Galbaransingh and Ferguson, along with other accused charged in the Piarco Airport corruption scandal, file applications to have their cases discharged following the proclamation of Section 34.
Parliament convenes to repeal Section 34
DPP Roger Gaspard says he was stunned to learn through the media about the proclamation of Section 34 on Independence Day.
The Senate votes to repeal Section 34.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar meets with the CJ and the DPP, who tell her they were not consulted on Section 34’s early proclamation.
Justice Minister Herbert Volney is fired and attorney Christlyn Moore is announced as his replacement.
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