“Mischief”, “slander” and “reprehensible conduct” was how Volney’s speech was described in a strongly-worded statement issued on Archie’s behalf by Jones P Madeira, protocol officer of the Judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago.
The Judiciary statement said, “Mr Volney is warned, however, as he has been formally before, that his looseness with respect to the Judiciary will not remain unchallenged, and that every avenue will be pursued to ensure remedy for any sullying of the character of the Honourable Chief Justice or any member of the Court.”
The Judiciary called on Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to say whether she intends to dissociate herself and her Government from Volney’s speech. The statement also asked why Speaker Wade Mark had not restrained Volney from attacking the CJ, although other sources have suggested that the Speaker could not act because Volney had not crossed the line of actually naming anyone, that is, the CJ.
It all began last Thursday when, minutes after Archie gave his speech at the Opening of the Law Term at the Hall of Justice and Volney just metres away in the Red House had hit out at “the one in the exalted office” and “the lofted one”.
While Volney did not call Archie’s name, Diego Martin North East MP Colm Imbert on Friday told the House that it was a clear reference to Archie.
Volney had criticised the use of an “opulent mansion”, and had alleged a link between the “exalted one” and former Attorney-General John Jeremie, whom he accused of trying to undermine the Judiciary.
Imbert had rejected the idea of any “sweetheart deal”, saying Jeremie was not AG when Archie was appointed, and telling Volney not to use Parliament to “settle some old score from your previous employment”.
Yesterday’s statement on behalf of Archie hit Volney for his “scurrilous and defamatory attack” on the office of the Chief Justice and the Judiciary, which he said was done under the cover of parliamentary privilege. The statement rejected the idea of a sweetheart deal with Jeremie to secure an official CJ’s residence in Goodwood Park.
“This, at best, is intended to mislead the national community over a condition of service to which the Chief Justice and the Judges of the country are statutorily entitled,” said the Judiciary statement, “and at worse, a patent slander against both the office of the Chief Justice and the Judiciary.”
The statement hit Volney for imputing improper conduct by the Chief Justice, the third highest office in the nation, and for claiming corruption and collusion with Jeremie.
“Outside of a substantive and specific motion before the Parliament, this would be in breach of the Standing Orders, and also amounts to a contempt and slander punishable by law,” said the statement. “It is regrettable, therefore, that the Honourable Speaker who “ had a duty to restrain” Mr Volney during his contribution before the House, failed to do so, and the Judiciary now has to seek and pursue channels via which the public record could be corrected.”
The Judiciary said when a Minister speaks on behalf of the Government in 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 dissociate herself and her government from the blatant untruths and highly offensive innuendos against the Honourable Chief Justice articulated by Mr Volney during his contribution to the Budget debate.”
The Judiciary statement then explained that Archie’s residence, which is part of his terms and conditions of service under the purview of the Salaries Review Commission meant he is entitled to rent-free, fully furnished super grade housing by the State.
The statement said Volney had also enjoyed these terms as a judge.
Former chief justices have occupied an official residence, up until Michael de la Bastide, who for personal reasons chose to stay at his own home, said the Judiciary.
The statement said the official residence was sold and before Archie became CJ the Judiciary and Ministry of Public Administration had searched for several years for an appropriate residence. “In the specific case of Mr Archie, the matter assumed even greater urgency upon his appointment, following a determination by the Special Branch that his personal residence in Cascade, from a security standpoint, was unsuitable for a Chief Justice,” the statement said.
The Judiciary said the previous administration undertook to build a CJ’s residence, and in the interim had leased premises in Goodwood Park. When Archie moved into Goodwood Park, said the statement, Jeremie was not Attorney General.
“The Judiciary also repudiates and condemns in the strongest possible terms Mr Volney’s reckless suggestion that Mr Jeremie was covertly undermining the independence of the Judiciary with the acquiescence of Mr Justice Archie,” said the statement.
The Judiciary recalled Archie expressing deep concern over Volney’s sudden retirement as a judge and immediate entry into active politics (for the May 24 General Election where he was the successful) St Joseph candidate”.
The statement accused Volney of “mischief” by last Thursday alleging that the former AG was involving himself more and more in the Judiciary’s business, and undermining its independence.
“It is regrettable that Mr Volney’s brashness and reprehensible conduct come at a time when the Judiciary has been reaching out to the Executive with suggestions for improving the administration of justice in Trinidad and Tobago.”
The statement said Volney’s remarks made it hard to believe, that as Justice Minister, he had been involved in a most cordial meeting between the Chief Justice and the Prime Minister.
“His slander notwithstanding, the Judiciary wishes to make it clear that neither the Honourable Chief Justice nor the wider institution is intimidated by the scandalous vituperation of Mr Volney, and will continue to deepen collaboration with all justice sector organisations and relevant ministries in pursuing the shared goal of a reformed criminal justice system and speeding up the delivery of justice in our country without, of course, compromising judicial independence or the separation of powers.”
Contacted yesterday as she prepared for her trip to New York to address the United Nations, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she had not yet seen the CJ’s letter, saying, “We’ll certainly have to consider it. I can’t in one second respond to something of that nature.”
However, she later issued a statement saying Volney had been expressing a personal view and not speaking on behalf of the Government.
Newsday contacted Speaker Wade Mark who said he had not yet seen Archie’s statement. Newsday left a message on Volney’s cellphone but we are still awaiting his reply.