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THE CRISIS DEEPENS

Published: 
Sunday, June 4, 2017

Last Thursday the Law Association of T&T (LATT) voted overwhelmingly in favour of the resignation of the Chief Justice and members of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC).

On a sloppy ballot paper riddled with factual and grammatical errors, the LATT voted on five resolutions all of which had the effect of demonstrating their loss of confidence in specifically named people. Perhaps the most glaring error that had to be manually corrected on the official ballot paper was the fact that Marjorie Thorpe was printed as the chairman of the Public Service Commission (PSC) and that had to be corrected to write in the name of Maureen Manchouck as PSC chairman.

Last Friday’s Guardian put this ballot paper on its front page. If this is what the LATT produced for its members to vote on then there is a deeper crisis in the legal profession than might be imagined. Surely, the LATT could have done better than that.

Perhaps it was fitting that the crisis at the top of the profession was polled on such a poorly constructed ballot paper. Putting that aside, what happens from here? There is nothing that can be done to the Chief Justice unless the Prime Minister decides to intervene in accordance with Section 137 of the Constitution. Based on the Prime Minister’s most recent statement on May 10 instant, during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Representatives, it does not appear that he will be intervening any time soon even though the responsibility of addressing this issue now falls solely and exclusively on his shoulders.

The Prime Minister’s continuing inaction and the action being demanded by the members of the legal profession will continue to stretch the crisis in different directions, while the Chief Justice is not going anywhere. The reality, however, is that all the senior counsel and all the junior counsel cannot put the broken pieces of this calamity back together again.

In addressing the Magistrate’s Court last Thursday, the Director of Public Prosecutions asked whether or not the former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar had resigned when he said: “The DPP does not know for a fact that Mrs Ayers-Caesar resigned. This is a serious matter and needs serious consideration and your worship should trod (sic) with caution.” (Guardian, Friday June 2, 2017, page A5).

There was ruction inside and outside the courts as accused people were told by acting Chief Magistrate Maria Busby-Earle Caddle that all of their matters would have to be restarted de novo. This is going to have further repercussions now that the DPP has adopted a particular stance before the courts. On what basis has the acting Chief Magistrate made her determination that all of the matters must be started de novo and from where does the jurisdiction to make such a determination derive? These are matters that are likely to attract further attention.

Concurrently, in a letter to the President of LATT last Wednesday, signed by Administrative Secretary to the Chief Justice, Sherlanne Pierre, the Chief Justice and the JLSC sought to distance themselves from the appointment of judges by saying that “The JLSC does not appoint Supreme Court judges…The President appoints judges pursuant to section 104 of the Constitution.”

This was a most surprising assertion as it sought to suggest that the President had a choice to refuse the advice of the JLSC which he does not. This is nothing more than an attempt to shirk a sacred constitutional responsibility that has been imposed on the Chief Justice and the JLSC.

What this letter from the administrative secretary to the Chief Justice is saying is that the powers that everyone thought the President had to comply with the advice of the JLSC in the appointment of judges really turns out to be a power that we did not know that the President had to refuse the advice of the JLSC which is chaired by the Chief Justice. In other words, powers we thought the President did not have turns out to be powers that the JLSC thinks that he has.

With the Magistracy thrown into chaos, the Chief Justice and the JLSC on the defensive and the executive executing a “Great Wall of China” separation from anything to do with this fiasco, it is only natural that this crisis will deepen.

With the LATT expressing its loss of confidence in the handwritten substitute for the chairman of the Public Service Commission, it is possible that pressure may be exercised in that quarter for her removal seeing that she is an ex-officio member of the JLSC who is now caught up in this web of controversy that is beginning to spread into all arms of the public sector with every passing day of inaction.

If there is a belief that this is somehow going to wither away when the courts go on recess for July and August and resume in September by using the methodology of the nine-day wonder, the reality is that this only keeps growing every week and we have gone way past nine days.

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