President of the Law Association Seenath Jairam, SC, has been given a blistering reprimand over a perceived conflict of interest. Karl Hudson-Phillips, QC, in a strongly worded three-page letter, yesterday called on the law association head to resign, saying he has done “irreparable damage” to the association and the legal profession. Jairam, in an interview with the T&T Guardian on Tuesday, maintained there was 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 led by Percy Farrell.
He defended his decision by saying his involvement in the policyholders’ case dealt with a constitutional aspect and after accepting the new brief in early October, he gave back the policyholders brief on October 4. But it seemed as though Jairam had a change of heart, since yesterday afternoon he issued a two-page press release announcing his decision to return the ministry's brief. (See Page 10). "I am satisfied that I breached no ethical or professional standards by accepting the brief from the Ministry of Finance,” he said, “but given the public perception as manifested in the media, I consider that as president of the Law Association, I should lead by example and therefore return the brief."
Jairam noted that past presidents of the association had accepted briefs from the governments of the day without public complaint. However, he did not comment on whether such cases involved a conflict of interest. The T&T Guardian also understands that Joseph Toney, who was appointed junior counsel to Jairam also returned his brief last night. In calling for Jairam to resign, Hudson-Phillips—a former Attorney General and member of the International Criminal Court—said Jairam’s statements demonstrated “an alarming crass lack of knowledge and sensitivity by the president of the Law Association as to what is a conflict of interest.”
What was of even more concern, Hudson-Phillips noted, was further conflict after Jairam returned the policyholders’ brief on October 4. Hudson-Phillips said Jairam nevertheless met with the policyholders last Friday. “After your public announcement of having returned the brief in the Farrell and Others matter, as recently as last Friday, October 12, you attended a conference with that client (Farrell) and other attorneys to discuss issues arising out of that appeal,” Hudson-Phillips said.
Comparing Jairam’s conduct to “scabbing,” Hudson-Phillips said as president of the Law Association Jairam ought to have known better when he accepted the brief from the ministry. “Attorneys are under no obligation to accept all briefs regardless of the circumstances surrounding the matter. “It is not a question of entitlement to work (‘eat a food’) as one of your junior is reported as stating or of professional competence to do the legal work involved.”
Pointing out that Jairam knew attorneys Michael Quamina and Fyard Hosein, SC, had been involved in the enquiry since its inception, Hudson-Phillips said during the campaign for the association’s presidency, “I told you then, and I repeat now, that I could not support you because I did not have confidence that your motivation was purely to advance the standing of the profession in T&T. “I think I put it more crudely and accused you of putting yourself forward only to ingratiate yourself with the Executive to get briefs," Hudson-Phillips said. Sources say up to late yesterday evening the Ministry of Finance was sent scampering to retain a lead counsel in the Clico enquiry, which resumes sitting on Monday.
After Jairam’s decision to return the brief, Reginald Armour, SC, in a brief telephone interview, said: “I am involved in the Farrell appeal and I had a conversation with Mr Jairam today to say that I am relieved that he returned the brief to the Ministry of Finance.” Armour said he is of the view that a “serious conflict of interest occurred with Mr Jairam having represented Farrell and others against the Attorney General and now the Ministry of Finance. “I consider he did the wrong thing by accepting, but the honourable thing by returning the brief,” Armour said. Also commenting on the matter was former Law Association president Martin Daly, SC , who said: “It is an admirable example of leadership, because it is obvious that Jairam acted to preserve the detachment of the Law Association, of which he is president. I have already rung and congratulated him.”