In making his defence of Persad-Bissessar being among 16 persons receiving “Silk” from President George Maxwell Richards on December 29, 2011, Warner condemned statements made by former attorney general Karl Hudson-Phillips, QC, former chief justice Michael de la Bastide and former Law Association president Martin Daly, SC in the wake of “Silk” being conferred on the Prime Minister, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, Chief Justice Ivor Archie, Appeal Court Justice Wendell Kangaloo, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard and other persons.
“They cannot have their cake and eat it. Messrs de la Bastide, Daly and Hudson-Phillips should simply shut up and be silent,” Warner declared in a strongly worded statement.
Saying three of this country’s elected prime ministers are lawyers (Persad-Bissessar, Basdeo Panday and Arthur NR Robinson) and two of them received “Silk” (Persad-Bissessar and Robinson), Warner remarked, “It is strange that complaints of political bias and corruption have only been raised on the conferral of ‘Silk’ to Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar.”
Claiming Persad-Bissessar was eminently qualified to receive “Silk,” Warner declared, “The career of our Prime Minister speaks for itself like former prime minister Robinson. She has been an attorney-at-law for 24 years and represented the poor and dispossessed in this country.”
Warner said as an Opposition MP, Persad-Bissessar sued the State in several matters challenging the Caribbean Court of Justice, the non- appointment of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, the alleged failure of the DPP to prefer criminal charges against Diego Martin West MP Dr Keith Rowley over the tea cup incident, land matters and election petition cases in this country and in St Kitts.
Warner said Persad-Bissessar also advised on several constitutional matters relating to Panday’s cases and his suspension from Parliament. Claiming it was routine in Barbados and Jamaica for attorney generals to be routinely given “Silk” as titular heads of the Bar, Warner noted Persad-Bissessar twice served as this country’s AG. “In many countries in the Commonwealth, she would have been entitled to take silk ex-officio on this basis alone. She is qualified,” Warner claimed.
He argued that Ramlogan was also deserving of “Silk” by virtue of his 15 years at the Bar “representing the poor and downtrodden at all levels.” Warner said Ramlogan has been involved in 45 cases before the Privy Council in London. He claimed this is a record surpassed only by Sir Fenton Ramsahoye, QC. Warner further alleged the only reason why Ramlogan had not received the title of Senior Counsel before last month was because “most of his cases were against the PNM administration.”
Warner said if fairness, justice and morality could not be a hallmark of discourse amongst the country’s legal luminaries, “then rather than taint the fabric of society, they should remain silent rather than allow their prejudice, political affiliations and the ones to whom they behold their judgement and statements made in the name of national development.”
Warner asked why there was no furore when Robinson conferred the title of “Silk” on himself and then conferred the title on then chief justice Clinton Bernard. He asked why de la Bastide, who was Law Association president from 1987 to 1990, raised no objections then. Warner said in 1970, Hudson-Phillips became the first AG to Silk himself “a mere ten days at the Bar.”
He said former AG’s Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and John Jeremie also had the title of “Silk” conferred on them. Warner’s statement was issued even as an email surfaced, purportedly issued to members of Government by Ramlogan, providing information on which they could base responses on the Silk controversy.
Justice Minister Herbert Volney, commenting on the raging debate, described the current debate over the award of “Silk” and calls for some of those who received this title to return it as “a storm in a tea cup.” In contrast to Warner, Volney adopted a similar position to the one taken by Acting Prime Minister Winston Dookeran on this issue on Thursday.
“A healthy debate in a country where crime is down and lawlessness is being curtailed, where democracy lives on and strives and where the people by and large are enjoying their lives,” Volney said. Dookeran said it was right for the public to debate this issue but he took no position on the matter.