Not only has Attorney General Bridgid Annisette-George been in “small table” talks with the Chief Justice over constitutional reform, the Prime Minister has also held several meetings with the Chief Justice over the possible introduction of a Ministry of Justice.
The Prime Minister’s meetings with the CJ preceded his announcement on July 13 that a “working document” proposing reforms to the Judiciary will be laid in Parliament in a month’s time.
According to Manning, this working document proposes the stripping of the Judiciary’s administrative functions which would go to a Ministry of Justice, a proposal which has been severely criticised by Law Association President Martin Daly SC as “backwards”.
Newsday has learnt that Manning has had at least two meetings with the CJ over the issue. He has also indicated that he intends to have further discussions with the head of the Judiciary.
The focus of discussions between the Prime Minister and the CJ has surrounded how the Ministry of Justice will work. In particular it has included the possibility of a central figure in that ministry who will function as a permanent secretary and work in close collaboration with the sitting Chief Justice. However, this permanent secretary, like all permanent secretaries, will remain ultimately responsible to a minister. Last month Manning had also announced several proposals for changes to the legal system. He called for the financing of the Judiciary to be reviewed and for a reduction in the independence of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
The AG has been appointed as the chairman of a special small table that has been mandated by the Prime Minister’s constitutional round table to look into proposals for constitutional reform which relate to the Judiciary. She has held secret talks with the CJ over the issue, alongside two members of the round table.
In a press release issued last Saturday by the Judiciary’s communications unit, the body confirmed that the AG and the CJ have been in talks over the ongoing process of constitutional reform.
The release said the CJ and AG “held a singular meeting recently” alongside two members of a sub-committee appointed by Government.
However, no mention was made in Saturday’s press release of the CJ’s behind-the-scenes consultations with the Prime Minister who is himself supervising the drafting of a working document which is to be used as the basis for constitutional reform.
Yesterday, the round table held an emergency meeting at Whitehall where it took the decision to schedule further emergency meetings on August 12 and August 18 in a bid to complete its discussions on the draft working document which members saw for the first time yesterday. The round table normally meets every two weeks.
While the Attorney General was expected to submit a report on her consultations with the CJ yesterday, she opted not to do so.
Instead, at yesterday’s meeting the round table agreed on a proposal which would effectively reduce the power of the Opposition party in the Senate.
The proposal would increase the number of Government senators by three, from 16 to 19. Yet, it would only increase the number of Opposition senators by one, upping it from six to seven. At the same time, the number of Independent senators would be increased by two, with these two senators to be recommended for appointment by the Tobago House of Assembly.
Currently, there are 31 senators. The proposal agreed upon by the round table would up that number to 37, while at the same time reducing the weight of the Opposition presence in the Senate. The proposal is expected to be included in the working document which is to be laid in Parliament.