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Thursday, April 24, 2014
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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AG must reveal criteria for silk—Maharaj
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan must come clean and reveal the criteria he used for the selection of attorneys to be elevated to Senior Counsel status or demit office. The call by former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence follows the decision by Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Justice of Appeal Wendell Kangaloo on Friday to return their instruments of appointments to President George Maxwell Richards. The decision of the judges to take silk was sharply and publicly criticised by Queen’s Counsel, Karl Hudson-Phillips, former Chief Justices Michael de la Bastide and Satnarine Sharma and Martin Daly, Senior Counsel. The move to return the honours granted by the legal profession to recognise outstanding work came one week after they were handed their instruments of appointment by President Richards.
Insisting that Ramlogan must justify his choice of selection of awardees, Maharaj said failure to do so would lead to speculation. “The Attorney General has a duty to respond by giving the country the full information about the process and criteria that was used in awarding the title of silk and whether there was consultation with the Chief Justice. The Law Association disclosed there was no consultation but, according to the requirements, consultation is needed before the appointment of silk is made. “Quite frankly, a response from the government cannot be satisfactory unless citizens are told what criteria were used in order for the government to make the awards of silk. If this information is not forthcoming then the presumption is that there was no process and the appointments were made arbitrarily. “In another country, when these kinds of errors occur, the relevant minister either tenders their resignation to the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister calls for letters of resignation,” Maharaj stated.
Judiciary brought into disrepute
Maharaj said both the Attorney General and the Prime Minister are to be blamed for bringing the judiciary into disrepute. “The Attorney General is the legal adviser for Cabinet and therefore whatever happened during the process, both the Attorney General and the Prime Minister must take full responsibility for the matter. “I am very surprised how some members of the Cabinet—in light of so many transgressions that are happening that involve violations of the law, transparency and accountability—continue to remain silent.”
Maharaj said that the time had come for ministers to understand that they have to put the country and institutions first and should not be concerned purely with occupying a ministerial office. While commending the move by the distinguished jurists to return the instruments of appointment, the former attorney general said he remained puzzled by the stance taken that “no wrong was done.” He explained: “I am happy that the distinguished Chief Justice and Justice of Appeal decided to return their instruments but it cannot be maintained in all the circumstances that no wrong was done because it is not right for a sitting judge to accept silk.”
Silk and national awards cannot be equated
The former Attorney General also said to equate the award of silk with the national awards is misleading. “National awards are given by the National Awards Committee. They are absolutely two different concepts because the national awards are governed by some regulations and there is a process by which the Chief Justice is involved as head of the National Awards Committee. The award of the title silk is a gift of the government to lawyers for the purpose of building the legal profession and therefore there is no basis in my respectful view for the Chief Justice to equate the national awards system with that of the appointment of silk.” Maharaj said it is vital to note that while the Attorney General is entitled to the award of silk likewise other heads of the legal profession, the elevation of such status commands a certain level of respect.
Former CJ to AG: Clear the air
Also calling on Ramlogan to clear the air on the issue was former Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma. Sharma said the Attorney General owes it to the nation to explain what led to the faux pas. “We definitely need more facts as to what went on; what caused him to award silk to the Chief Justice and the Justice of Appeal. He needs to give the nation more details. The Attorney General needs to let members of public know how this all came about and what steps he is going to take to ensure that something like this does not happen again. He has to tell the public,” Sharma stated.
Many unanswered questions
Also wading in on the controversy was political analyst Dr Bishnu Ragoonath. Ragoonath said the recent events left many unanswered questions and the Attorney General must give answers. “The Attorney General must explain to the country what criteria was used for his selection and the basis for his choice. Whether it was the wrong or right approach is a matter to decide. The country needs to know how the choices were made and who was responsible. The Chief Justice and the Justice of Appeal should have not accepted the award of silk even though they were nominated. It is your right to accept or decline,” Ragoonath stated. Also expressing a similar view was political scientist, Dr Hamid Ghany, who said the recent events called for answers by all those involved.
Ghany suggested that the best way to deal with the matter was by engaging in public dialogue and debate on the issue. “The recent outcry revealed that there is certainly need for a deeper understanding of the process and a review of the process and how it is done.” Meanwhile, President of the Law Association Dana Seetahal declined comment on the matter yesterday indicating that a special meeting of the association is to be convened on Thursday to address the criteria to be followed when awarding the title of silk to attorneys.
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