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To leave or not to leave

Sunday, March 18, 2018

At the post-Cabinet media briefing last Thursday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley rejected the position adopted by President Carmona that the Chief Justice is entitled to take sabbatical leave. He indicated that he had taken the advice of senior counsel before arriving at that determination.

Curiously, the Attorney General had also taken advice from a different senior counsel and that advice suggested that the Chief Justice was entitled to sabbatical leave.

Faced with conflicting advice inside the Government, the Prime Minister has instructed the Attorney General to go to court to seek an interpretation of what the law is in this case.

There is no doubt that President Carmona has found himself in a last-minute constitutional controversy of major proportions as he prepares to demit office at midnight tonight. His presidency has had situations before where he crossed swords with this Prime Minister. This final salvo is clearly one where the Prime Minister is saying openly that he rejects the President’s view about judicial entitlement to sabbatical leave.
Why has the Chief Justice been so insistent that he must travel ahead of the inauguration ceremony for the new President? Why was the current President so will ing to grant him sabbatical leave to travel out of the country for six months from March 11 when it has been known for months that a new President is to be sworn into office on March 19?

Surely some consideration ought to have been given to that. People have been raising questions about whether or not there is some other reason why the Chief Justice would not want to be present to administer the oath of office to Paula Mae Weekes tomorrow.

According to the Prime Minister, if the Chief Justice had travelled out of the country on sabbatical leave there would have been “consequences”. That is about as ominous as it could get for the invocation of section 137 of the Constitution which would see the commencement of impeachment proceedings against the Chief Justice.

This is where our country has reached. A President taking it upon himself to grant sabbatical leave to a Chief Justice on authority that is questioned by the Prime Minister, with the Chief Justice wanting to miss the inauguration of a new President on March 19 by publicly stating that he will be travelling out of the country on March 11. What is this?

When average citizens look on at political and judicial elites operating in this way, they lose respect for high offices of State. President Carmona has several times before talked about “donkey cart politics” in this country. The last days of his tenure have not exactly been stellar and he will be remembered for this controversy as he leaves office at midnight.

If section 137 is invoked against this Chief Justice, it would be the second time in 12 years that these provisions have been invoked against a sitting Chief Justice. The last time, there was no case for Chief Justice Sharma to answer at the end of the process. We wait to see what will happen going forward in this instance seeing that the Prime Minister actually uttered the words “section 137” from his mouth, but not in the context of invoking it.

Perhaps, what was most significant was that Prime Minister Rowley was asked by reporters to indicate why he sought legal advice on his own, separate and apart from the Attorney General. His answer was quite simple. The powers of the Prime Minister under section 137 of the Constitution apply to the Prime Minister alone and no one else.

As it stands now, the Chief Justice finds himself in the horns of a dilemma—to leave or not to leave. That applies beyond the boundaries of the controversy about sabbatical or accumulated vacation leave and constitutes his third option.


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