Maharaj said he was “disturbed” that the present administration was “giving the impression” that they were following a precedent set by him during his term in office.
He was questioned on whether Government had mishandled the Silk appointments during an interview at Centre Pointe Mall, Ramsaran Street, Chaguanas.
“What I am disturbed about, is the Government is giving the impression that it followed precedent in making the appointments it made and I’m not now talking about members of the Judiciary, I’m talking about in awarding Silk to the Prime Minister and to the Attorney General and to other lawyers,” Maharaj said.
Controversy over the conferring of Silk to Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Justice Wendell Kangaloo led the judges to return their instruments of appointments to President George Maxwell Richards last Friday. They were among 16 legal professionals, including Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, who received Silk based on the recommendations of the Prime Minister herself.
References had been made to appointments made while Maharaj was attorney general as precedent for some of the recent appointments.
However, Maharaj said a team of legal experts had been set up to review those who applied for Silk status during his tenure. He would then consult the Chief Justice and the Law Association on the team’s recommendations.
“The process I introduced was there was a team of lawyers comprising Mr Karl Hudson-Phillips, Queen’s Counsel, Mr Tajmool Hosein Queen’s Counsel, Mr Allan Alexander Senior Counsel, that team of lawyers interviewed all applicants for the Silk title for senior counsel title,” he said.
“And there was criteria which we published in the Trinidad and Tobago Gazette and based on that interview, those interviews, by that panel of lawyers who actually got the views of the judges about their applicants, that team made assessments of the lawyers who applied for Silk.
“And based on that assessment, they made recommendations to me, the attorney general, I then took those recommendations to the chief justice and to the Law Association and I held consultations with those two institutions.
And it’s based on those consultations, as attorney general, I would then make a recommendation to the prime minister and the prime minister, based on that, would make his recommendations for appointment,” he said.
Maharaj said applicants filled out forms and their background and contribution to the legal profession were checked out.
He said Government did not use this system he had put in place.
“The process they followed was no process. It was not open, it was not transparent, and it appeared as though they merely had a meeting, decided there should be representatives from certain groups of individuals to be appointed Silk and they appointed them,” Maharaj said.
Maharaj said he was not criticising those who were appointed Silk but the process which Government used.
“And this is a process in which the Prime Minister gave herself silk because the Prime Minister makes the appointment and therefore I believe both the Prime Minister and the Attorney General, have a duty to tell the country what criteria was adopted. What they used in making the award of Silk.
Unless that is done, the population of Trinidad and Tobago would not have any confidence in the appointment,” he said.
Based on what Persad-Bissessar had done, Maharaj said former prime minister, Basdeo Panday, an attorney, should have also been awarded Silk.
Congress of the People (COP) chairman Joseph Toney, in a separate media briefing at the COP’s Charlieville headquarters yesterday, said the time had come for the establishment of an independent committee to oversee the criteria for the award of the legal title.
“The Congress of the People regrets very much that this honour that is bestowed upon deserving lawyers has this year been embroiled in so much controversy, we feel that lawyers who have done well at the bar and in other places ought to be appropriately honoured.
This year, unfortunately, we have had a lot of heat, a lot of controversy, it is not the intention of the Congress of the People to get further into the controversy,’ Toney said.
“We do feel that coming out of the debate that there is a need for an independent body, separate and apart from those involved in the politics of the day to look after the development of criteria for the award of silk to deserving attorneys at law,” he added.