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Divided opinions over legal issues

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The issue surrounding Justice Anthony Carmona’s eligibility to be nominated for President has aroused concern among certain legal experts about Government’s process, although others believe the issue will not haunt Carmona’s presidency or affect future laws to which he may assent. Debate continued yesterday after the PNM and others raised concern on Tuesday about Carmona’s eligibility.


On Tuesday, Carmona was nominated unopposed for the post of President by Government. Although the Opposition PNM said it supported the nomination and did not nominate anyone, the party later sent a letter to Government expressing concern about Carmona’s eligibility, in view of his work overseas with United Nations agencies from 2001 to 2004. 


The question was whether he met the criterion in Section 23 of the Constitution that he had to be “ordinarily resident” in T&T for ten years preceding his nomination. Attorney General Anand Ramlogan subsequently said the Government had consulted three senior attorneys, Lord Pannick, QC, Sir Fenton Ramsahoye, SC, and Michael Beloff, QC, on the issue and they unanimously concluded Carmona satisfied the criterion.


On whether the situation might haunt Carmona’s presidency later on and might never truly be put to rest, a prominent senior counsel yesterday told the T&T Guardian concerns about his eligibility were valid. The SC said there were also valid concerns on whether the law-making aspect of a future Carmona presidency might be hampered or hamstrung by the issue.


Another senior counsel, former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, said he had not studied the matter but  said: “Justice Carmona is a good choice but the process for his election has been done in such a way so as to cause him grave embarrassment since the Government should have checked all these matters before.


“The candidates for President should have been out for public comment about a month ago to allow members of the public to express their view. If there were any queries of eligibility that could have been sorted out early on.” He added: “The embarrassing situation is that now Government has to rely on legal opinions when a question like this has arisen. 


“If this was done earlier and the issue had arisen, Government would have had sufficient time to go to the  local court, seek a special sitting and get three judges to rule on an interpretation summons. ”This would have prevented any doubt as to the eligibility of the President and avoided a situation where the view of its foreign jurists might not be accepted by the entire population since legal opinions differ.”


Maharaj said Government had a duty to allow the population to know the nominees and involve a participatory democracy approach as they have always promised. Senior Counsel Israel Khan, however, said Carmona could be sworn in as President since he met the constitutional  criterion and Government’s legal opinions from eminent jurists indicated that. 


He said he believed Carmona was “ordinarily resident” in T&T over the period in which he had assignments with the UN agencies. Once Carmona was sworn in, Khan said, it meant he had qualified for the post and met all the criteria. Once Carmona becomes President, Khan said, if there was any challenge to any law he assented to and that was based on his so called “ineligibility,” it would “go down the drain.” 


“The so-called ineligibility card cannot be used later once he is sworn in and becomes President. There is not any potential for a Section 34 scenario here,” Khan added. A  former high-profiled judicial head also said the term “ordinarily resident” was flexible. Meanwhile, Parliament officials said yesterday no other nomination for President could be lodged once the deadline had passed on Tuesday. 


They said only if there were no candidate would the nomination process have to be repeated.


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