“What we are facing now demands that the process by which people attain these accolades should be transparent, and be put in the hands of people who will protect the process from self serving developments,” Rowley told Newsday yesterday.
Noting that the rules do not prohibit the Prime Minister from awarding silk to herself, he added,“We are in an era when anything goes, and we are required to spell out the regulations to protect us from these abuses.”
Persad-Bissessar on Thursday wrote President George Maxwell-Richards, recommending herself and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, as well as 14 legal practitioners, for elevation to silk.
The list of silk was drawn up on the advice of Ramlogan, but Persad-Bissessar held the final say. Several of the senior counsell were handed instruments yesterday by President George Maxwell-Richards at a ceremony at Knowsley.
Rowley said appointment to silk should be done after a long period of service. He noted the cost implications involved in the appointment.
“Appointment is not only an accolade earned as a result of the excellence of work and the experience of the lawyer gathering over time,” he said. “It has serious implications for the cost of justice in the country, as there are additional fees associated with that.
“To see the system being so abused in the political arena demands that we immediately move to a review of the system, to make it more accountable to the national community.”
Rowley noted that the current rules allow the appointments because they date back to a time when practices were different.
“We had certain kinds of arrangements that worked well,” he said. “Certain kinds of decency and practices were expected by a certain generation. Clearly, those decencies are gone and the current generation pays no heed. What may have worked in the past will not work in today’s society. Our laws now have to be tailored.”
Checks by Newsday yesterday showed that the rules governing the process of appointment to silk date back to an order issued in 1964.
In that year, then Attorney General, George A Richards issued an order stating that, “Appointments will be made by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister.”
The order continued, “members of the Bar who desire to be considered for appointment as Queen’s Counsel should submit their applications to the Attorney General.
“On receipt of an application, the Attorney General will consult the Chief Justice. The Attorney General may also consult such other persons, or bodies as he considers necessary, but he will be under no obligation to do so.
“After such consultation, the Attorney General will submit his recommendations to the Prime Minister who will advise the Governor-General.” Today, the President performs the function of the Governor General. The last Prime Minister to award himself silk was ANR Robinson.
Attorneys General have, in recent times, also given themselves silk. Legal sources said that the practice dated back to Karl Hudson-Phillips. Other Attorneys General who have given themselves silk include: John Jeremie and Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj. Russell Martineau got silk after his tenure.
Some Attorneys General have not given themselves silk, including Anthony Smart and Brigid Annisette-George, who served for 18 months. Glenda Morean-Phillips also did not give herself silk. Persad-Bissessar, who served briefly as Attorney General under the UNC administration, did not give herself silk in that incarnation.
Former PNM Prime Minister Patrick Manning continued the process of having the Prime Minister approve silk, making recommendations in 2003 and 2006.
These, in the face of objections to the process by the then Chief Justice, Satnarine Sharma.
Rowley said an apolitical awarding body should be set up to handle the process.
“The awarding body should not be left in the hands of a self-serving political directorate,” he said. “These latest developments are not just a vulgarity, but it serves to water-down awards made to persons who are eminently deserving, and that is the real tragedy of this kind of development,” he said.
“There are many prominent legal practitioners who have earned the right to be called senior counsel, and the benefit to that accomplishment is tarnished and watered down by this, and that is sad.”
Rowley’s comments came as legal sources questioned the need to award silk to Chief Justice Ivor Archie, and Justice of Appeal Wendell Kangaloo.
“The whole point is that you are an advocate, and being a senior counsel should be something to aspire to,” one source said.
The last Chief Justice to be awarded silk was said to be Clinton Bernard. Legal sources, noted, however that in recent years the range of lawyers given silk has opened up to include solicitors, and non-practising attorneys.