Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has disregarded the Law Association’s advice to initiate an investigation into misconduct allegations against Chief Justice Ivor Archie.
Responding to questions from media during the post-Cabinet press briefing at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, yesterday, Rowley said he sought and received independent legal advice on the recommendations made by the Law Association, in December last year, and was advised to take no action.
Rowley said: “The legal advice I have indicates that I don’t need to or I should not acquiesce to the Law Association’s advice, so we move on.”
The Prime Minister also defended his decision to seek independent legal advice on the issue.
“On matters such as this, I do not advise myself,” Rowley said, as he confirmed that he made his decision after receiving the advice, a few weeks ago.
However, Rowley declined to reveal details of his legal advice including who gave it, as he promised to do so on a later date.
Rowley’s decision on the issue effective brings the possibility of impeachment proceedings against Archie to an end as he has the exclusive constitutional discretion to initiate such.
Under Section 137 of the Constitution, the President appoints a tribunal after misconduct allegations against a CJ or a judge are referred by the Prime Minister.
The tribunal, which includes a chairman and at least two other members, all with appellate judicial experience in Commonwealth jurisdictions, will then investigate. The tribunal reports to the Privy Council, which then gives the President recommendations on what action, if any, should be taken.
Contacted for a response yesterday, Law Association President Douglas Mendes, SC, declined to comment as he said that the Association’s executive council will meet to discuss the development, next Tuesday.
The controversy surrounding Archie arose in late 2017 after a series of newspaper reports accused Archie of attempting to persuade the judges to change their State-provided security in favour of a private company in which his friend and convicted fraudster Dillian Johnson worked.
Archie was also accused of attempting to fast-track Housing Development Corporation (HDC) applications for people recommended by Johnson, who has been convicted of fraud.
Shortly after the allegations surfaced, Johnson was wounded at a shooting at his Gasparillo home. Johnson fled to the United Kingdom was but was denied asylum that country’s immigration authorities. However, he was allowed to stay as he was granted humanitarian protection for five years.
Archie was also linked to convicted fraudster Kern Romero, who was accused of using his alleged friendship with Archie to defraud people. Romero died in hospital, early last year.
Archie’s initial silence on the allegations drew criticism from senior legal practitioners and even some of Archie’s judicial colleagues.
What prompted the Law Association to act?
While the association never publicly disclosed the investigative report compiled by a special committee, Guardian Media was able to examine the corresponding legal opinions of former Grenada Attorney General Sir Francis Alexis, QC, and Eamon Courtenay, SC, the former AG of Belize.
Both distinguished legal luminaries were asked to consider the evidence the committee gathered over Archie’s alleged links to convicted fraudsters Dillian Johnson and Kern Romero and his alleged role in attempting to fast-track housing applications for over a dozen persons between 2013 and 2015.
In his advice, Sir Francis said that from the evidence, it appeared that the CJ did not recommend the names of three people to Rowley because he thought they were “needy and deserving”, but “because the help of the Chief Justice in this matter was sought by his close personal friend Kern Romero, who had received money from those three persons on his promising them that he could get the CJ to intercede with the HDC on their behalf.”
He claimed that Archie’s friendship with Romero, “showed extremely poor judgement, or lack of judgement, as Chief Justice, in entering and maintaining or developing a close personal relationship with a person who has the potential to bring the office of Chief Justice into disrepute.”
Like Sir Francis, Courtenay also suggested that impeachment proceedings would help to clear the air on the issue and help improve public trust and confidence in the administration of justice.
He stated that the allegations in the association’s final report were “serious and some of them are, prima facie, credible.”
“Further, the truth of the allegations require investigation because they have, as underscored by the (local) Court of Appeal, had a serious negative impact on the Judiciary of T&T. In the circumstances, the Chief Justice should be given an opportunity to vindicate his reputation and to provide full and frank explanations so that public confidence can, if at all, be restored in this important branch of government,” Courtenay stated.
Both Courtenay and Sir Francis found that there was a sufficient basis for the PM to refer the matter to the President and that the question of removing the Chief Justice ought to be investigated.
However, they both accepted that it was for the PM and not the association to decide.
What Law Association report said
In November 2017, the association’s council called on Archie to respond to the allegation that he discussed the judges’ meeting with Johnson.
It then appointed a sub-committee to investigate the allegations and sought the legal advice from Sir Francis Alexis, QC, of Grenada and Eamon Courtenay, QC, of Belize, to determine if the allegations were sufficient to trigger impeachment proceedings under the Constitution.
The investigation was initially stymied after Archie obtained an injunction blocking the probe. The injunction was overturned by three of his colleagues from the Court of Appeal and their decision was upheld by the Privy Council in August, last August.
While the Privy Council ruled that the association’s investigation did not usurp the impeachment proceedings, it warned over the potential impact of disseminating the findings of fact in its report.
President of the UK Supreme Court Baroness Brenda Hale, who wrote the judgement, said: “If the association’s conclusions on the facts are published, there would be widespread media coverage and pressure on the Chief Justice to resign, thus undermining the very protection which the Section 137 process is designed to give him.”
On December 10, last year, the association’s membership met to decide whether to refer the report and corresponding advice to Rowley. The motion was eventually passed by a margin of 150 to 32.
It was the second motion concerning Archie, which was passed by the association’s membership, over the past two years.
On June 1, 2017, the association passed a no-confidence motion in Archie and the then members of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) over their handling of the short-lived judicial appointment of former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar.
Although Archie resisted the association’s investigation and repeatedly refused to comment directly to the allegations, he has generally denied any wrongdoing.
In October, last year, the Judiciary issued a release over the allegations after they were rehashed in a fresh series of reports.
The allegations were described as false and recycled innuendos.
“The Chief Justice notes the now transparent recurring modus operandi of seeking to hound him out of office using tired tactics of innuendo with reliance and comment on that innuendo,” the release said.