Attorney Seenath Jairam, SC, says there is no conflict of interest in his representing the Ministry of Finance in the enquiry into Clico, even though he previously represented a group of Clico policyholders. Yesterday he defended his decision to accept a brief to represent the ministry at the ongoing commission of enquiry into CL Financial and the Hindu Credit Union.
Jairam, who is also president of the Law Association, in a telephone interview, fielded questions about the perception that there was a conflict of interest since he previously represented a group of Clico policyholders. “I gave back the (policyholders’) brief on October 4,” he said. Jairam and attorney Jagdeo Singh has been retained by the ministry, while Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein and attorney Michael Quamina have been fired.
No reason was given for the firing of the two attorneys, who have represented the ministry since the enquiry started last year. Jairam said his involvement in the policyholders’ case dealt with a constitutional aspect in regard to which Parliament passed two pieces of legislation in 2011.
The legislation in effect seeks to buy out the rights of the policyholders and thereby prevent them from taking legal action against the state. Jairam, along with a battery of attorneys who included Dr Claude Denbow SC, Donna Denbow and PNM senator Faris Al-Rawi, sought the interest of policyholders Percy Farrell, Marina Inalsingh, Prof Gordon Rohlehr, David Dayal and Michael Alexander.
The policyholders filed a lawsuit against Colonial Life Insurance Company (Trinidad) Ltd (Clico), the Central Bank and Republic Bank Ltd. Saying a conflict does not arise with his now representing the ministry, Jairam maintained his involvement in the matter was purely for the constitutional aspect and not the substantive issues.
He said a conflict would arise when an attorney used information from one case to advance the case of an opposing client. That, he said, did not occur, since technically the lawsuit (the constitutional aspect) was filed against the office of the Attorney General. “I was approached on a brief and I accepted. A client is always entitled to change representation,” Jairam said.
He said he had worked hard for his entire life and was among the first from the Hugh Wooding Law School to receive silk. Jairam believes the best representation would be put forward at the enquiry, despite his coming on board when it was at an advanced stage. The enquiry began hearings in March 2011. It is carded to resume next week.
A senior attorney who did not wish to be identified agreed with Jairam there was no conflict. “It was just the constitutional points he argued, there is no conflict,” the attorney added. Another attorney, who also did not wish to be named, disagreed, saying each attorney should consider “possible conflicts of interest between new clients with current clients they already represent.”
The attorney said the issue of conflict of interest arises when the representation of one client would be directly adverse to another client. Meanwhile, Percy Farrell, when contacted, was not aware of Jairam’s move.
“I’m now hearing this for the first time. It is very surprising. He was in our matter for the constitutional motion. This is news to me,” Farrell added.
Peter Permell responds
Chairman of the Clico Policyholders Group Peter Permell, in a release, expressed concern over the firing of Hosein and Quamina. The release said: “For the record we acknowledge and respect the prerogative of any client to change his/her attorneys at any time during any proceedings but must admit that as taxpayers, we do find a bit curious the firing of Ministry of Finance attorneys-at-law Fyard Hosein SC and Michael Quamina at this late stage in the commission of enquiry).
“Particularly given the time, effort and taxpayers’ money that would have already been expended in this matter and the fact that this decision will obviously result in additional cost to the state.” Permell said from his observation, both Hosein and Quamina have to date “not only diligently represented the interests of their client but have at all times done so with dignity and decorum.” In the circumstances, Permell said, the policyholders feel the “new Finance Minister owes the taxpayers of this country an explanation for this seemingly arbitrary and capricious change.”