So said Manager of the Information and Protocol Division of the Judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago, Jones P Madeira, responding to requests for a comment from the CJ on the issue.
“I don’t see any further statement forthcoming on it,” Madeira said yesterday. Eminent Queen’s Counsel, Karl Hudson-Phillips, and former Chief Justice, Michael De La Bastide, in separate letters, have called for both men to return their “Silk”, citing concerns that the appointment could threaten the independence of the Judiciary.
Archie and Kangaloo were among 16 legal luminaries bestowed with the title of Senior Counsel by President George Maxwell Richards at a ceremony at Knowsley in Port-of-Spain on December 29, 2011. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard were also on the list.
A former AG, Hudson-Phillips, in a letter to Newsday on Tuesday, argued that the independence of the Judiciary was “totally incompatible with holding a title which required service to the Crown/State/Government.”
Hudson-Phillips said the decision by Archie and Kangaloo to accept “Silk” was a “grave matter and a serious contradiction for a judge to request or accept Silk if offered.”
“It flies in the face of the hallowed principle of the separation of powers. It also compromises the perception of both the Judiciary and the Bar,” he said. De La Bastide, a former President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, suggested that “suitable criteria should also be formulated to guide this panel and these criteria should not include the holding of any particular office, political or other.”
He regarded the award of senior counsel to Archie and Kangaloo as an aberration “which if previously committed, should not have been repeated.” He said the award of senior counsel was for practising attorneys and not judges. Madeira said yesterday that Archie had dealt with the issue of accepting the title shortly after the function last Thursday and had no further statement on the matter, even in light of the concerns raised by Hudson-Phillips and de La Bastide.
“I don’t see a further change in what he said then. There is no further statement to come from the CJ on the issue,” Madeira repeated.
“He spoke there and he was quite open and I don’t anticipate a further statement on it. He has been quite up front and personal on it and he is not going further on that.”
Archie and Kangaloo could not be reached for comment yesterday. Former President Arthur NR Robinson, meanwhile, has endorsed de La Bastide’s view that the decision to award senior counsel to members of the legal profession be considered by an independent panel comprising representatives of the legal profession and members of civil society as opposed to politicians.
Although he was bestowed with the title of “Silk” as a sitting prime minister more than two decades ago, Robinson told Newsday yesterday:
“I agree that politicians should not be the ones that have the decisive say in such a professional matter as the award of ‘Silk’ in the legal profession.”
Currently, worthy candidates are recommended by the Attorney General and minister in charge of Legal Affairs for final approval by the Prime Minister. Robinson, who was awarded “Silk” when he became Prime Minister following the National Alliance for Reconstruction’s victory in the 1986 general election, also agreed with de La Bastide and Hudson-Phillips’ suggestion that the process of awarding “Silk” had the potential to become politicised.
Robinson recalled that he had initially been rejected as a suitable candidate for senior counsel by former Prime Minister George Chambers while he was an Opposition Member of Parliament during the early 1980’s.
“After some years of experience, nationally and internationally, I was approached by a number of lawyers who had felt that I should be awarded “Silk.”
“I made enquiries as to the process and consulted Vitra Sinanan and Algernon Wharton (eminent attorneys) who both enthusiastically urged me to apply,” he said.
“The process was to apply to the Attorney General and then the Attorney General would refer the matter to the Prime Minister.
“So, this is what I did. I made the applications to the Attorney General who was expected to refer it to the Prime Minister, who at the time was Mr Chambers. As was generally known, Mr Chambers was not a lawyer and the application was refused.
“There was some surprise in some quarters about this. At the time I was in the Opposition and Mr Chambers was in the PNM,” he said.
“Then, the new Government came into being. The record is still there, and it was found that the Attorney General did approve and recommend the application which was then sent to Mr Chambers, as was required, and Mr Chambers turned down the application.
“There was some surprise about this because it was not felt that it was the business of the Prime Minister to refuse an application which was sent with approval by the Attorney General.”
Robinson recalled that he re-applied after the PNM went out of office in 1986.
“At the time, I had begun to become known not only nationally but internationally. So, I made a second application and by this time there was a new Government and Mr Chambers was no longer Prime Minister,” he said.
“The second application was approved and the only reason it could have been turned down (before) was political because I, at the time was in the Opposition.
“So, that what is being recommended today reminds me about the situation in which I was in when the matter was interfered with by a politician.”