Deep concerns voiced by the judiciary yesterday morning prompted Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar last night to distance herself–far away–from recent statements made by her Justice Minister, Herbert Volney, about Chief Justice Ivor Archie. The judiciary fired off a statement yesterday accusing ex-judge Volney of misleading the community and also of slander against Archie and the judiciary as a whole, in recent remarks about Archie. The judiciary's statement followed Volney's claims in the House of Representatives during last Thursday's budget debate when Volney took issue with Archie and former attorney general John Jeremie. Volney accused Jeremie of "involving himself" in the judiciary, alleging there was a "sweetheart" deal between Jeremie and Archie on a house.
The judiciary stated among its contentions yesterday that "Not for the first time since his overnight retirement as a judge of the Supreme Court and his simultaneous entry into local politics, Mr Herbert Volney has launched a scurrilous and defamatory attack on the office of the Chief Justice and the judiciary as a whole, only on this more recent occasion he has done so under the cover of parliamentary privilege." On Volney's claims of the alleged "deal," the statement noted: "This, at best, is intended to mislead the national community over a condition of service to which the Chief Justice and judges of the country are statutorily entitled, and at worse, a patent slander against both the office of the Chief Justice and the Judiciary of T&T as a whole."
"Mr Volney also imputes improper conduct on the part of the Honourable the Chief Justice, the holder of the third highest office in the nation, when, in the same contribution, he suggests corruption and collusion between the Honourable the Chief Justice and a former Attorney General." The judiciary's statement pointed out: "When a minister speaks on behalf of the government during a Parliamentary debate, he is presumed to be putting forward the collective views and position of the executive, unless there is an expressed contrary intention or disclaimer. "Accordingly, the judiciary will be interested in knowing whether the Honourable Prime Minister, Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar, intends to disassociate herself and her government from the blatant untruths and highly offensive innuendoes against the Honourable Chief Justice articulated by Mr Volney during his contribution to the budget debate."
The judiciary's statement explained how premises were obtained for Archie, noting Jeremie was not Attorney General when Archie moved into recommended property at Goodwood Park. The judiciary repudiated and condemned as "reckless" (sic) Volney's suggestion that Jeremie was covertly undermining the independence of the judiciary with the acquiescence of Archie. The judiciary stressed that "slander notwithstanding," (sic) Archie nor the wider institution "is intimidated by Volney's scandalous vituperation" and will continue to deepen collaboration with all justice sector agencies and relevant ministries to pursue shared goals. Hours later, by 6 pm, Persad-Bissessar's office issued a statement in which the PM noted that she and other People's Partnership members had come "to the defence of the rule and law and were strong proponents in the judiciary's independence."
In this context, Persad-Bissessar, an attorney, said she considered Volney's statements as: "Unfortunate and unnecessary but may have been in the context of a first time (sic) budget debate for the honourable minister and therefore may have been simply over-enthusiastic." The statement added: "The honourable Prime Minister wishes to further reinforce the fact that the views expressed by Minister Volney reflect his personal opinion and in NO WAY (sic) is the official position of the Prime Minister or the People's Partnership Government regarding its perception, attitude or policy concerning the judicial arm of the state and indeed the honourable Chief Justice himself."
Persad-Bissessar noted that Volney's contribution had stated intent to consult with the Chief Justice on the administration of justice, "thereby recognising himself, the independence of the judiciary and the necessity for his ministry to give this body its full co-operation and due respect."
Persad-Bissessar emphasised that her Government "understands the importance and value of a good working relationship with the judiciary." The situation erupted on the eve of Persad-Bissessar's departure for the US today.
Justice Minister Herbert Volney did not reply yesterday to repeated calls on the respective positions of the judiciary or his boss, the Prime Minister. Nor did Attorney General Anand Ramlogan or Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar responded on the issue. However, PNM's Colm Imbert said: "I'm glad the Prime Minister has allowed good sense to prevail rather than choosing to stubbornly try defending the indefensible. "She should have dealt with the matter at the time it occurred in Parliament rather than have it come to this where you have the judiciary calling on Government to take action against its minister," he said.
"The Prime Minister should have intervened immediately during the debate–she's a very experienced MP should have known Volney was out of order."
Opposition Leader Keith Rowley was unavailable. During debate, Imbert said former attorney general Bridgid Annisette-George held the post of AG when Archie was appointed Chief Justice–and not John Jeremie as Volney claimed. Imbert condemned Volney for using Parliamentary privilege to attack the judiciary.