AG: I did my constitutional duty

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

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ATTORNEY General (AG) Reginald Armour, SC, on Tuesday said he carried out his constitutional duty to properly consult the Chief Justice (CJ) on applicants to become senior counsel (“take silk”) and in his own discretion went further to seek the input of the Law Association (LATT) which opted not to discuss but to instead call for a whole new process of approving new silks.

The Prime Minister called Armour to the podium at a briefing on Tuesday at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, to give an account of the selection of 18 attorneys to become silks, following questions raised by a statement earlier by the Law Association (LATT) seemingly at odds with the AG’s remarks to reporters at Monday’s silk awards ceremony at President’s House, St Ann’s.

After Armour spoke, Dr Rowley shot, “Surprise, surprise, the Law Association refused to take part in the process of discussion with the Attorney General and put out a statement that the Attorney General lying. Why aren’t we surprised?”

On Monday, President Christine Kangaloo had told guests the AG invites suitable attorneys to apply, consults the Chief Justice, and makes recommendations to the Prime Minister who in turn advises the President to make the appointments which the Constitution mandates her to comply with.

After 17 attorneys, including the husband and brother of President Christine Kangaloo – were made silks, Armour told reporters at President’s House that during the selection process LATT President Lynette Seebaran-Suite as an applicant had passed the matter on to “senior members of LATT, with whom I had discussions.”

The LATT statement on Tuesday said LATT had no consultations with Armour on the merits of the applicants, but a LATT sub-committee had decided to discuss with him the setting-up of an independent committee, under Chief Justice Ivor Archie, to consider the applications.

“LATT was informed (in writing) by the Honourable Attorney General that the Honourable Prime Minister had declined the LATT’s request to meet.”

As a result, LATT said it had had “no discussions whatsoever” with Armour on any applicant or the merits of any applicant for silk.

Armour on Tuesday praised Newsday’s report of his remarks on Monday, which reported him consulting the CJ and having discussions with LATT officials.

“I used two very deliberate different words in the statement to the media.

“The practice since 1964 requires me to consult with the CJ on the names I recommended to the PM and in my discretion I could choose to speak to anyone else.

“So I choose to speak with the Law Association. That is different from a consultation.”

Armour said he had a full consultation with CJ but none with the LATT which did not wish to consider the applicant list but to discuss a new process with the PM who did not agree to.

“So your (Newsday’s) quotation of what I said yesterday was accurate and it would not be correct to suggest I engaged in any consultation with the Law Association.

“I disclosed the list to them, I invited them to discuss it with me, it so happens they did not because they chose a different process.

Newsday on Tuesday asked several new awardees if they should hand back their silks following LATT’s saying it had made no input into the merits of individual applicants.

Heritage Petroleum chairman Michael Quamina told Newsday, “I’ve been in court the whole day. I’ve just come out of court, so I’ve not seen what you’re talking about and I can’t comment. I just literally just came off the system.”

Attorney Larry Lalla told Newsday, “I have not seen the statement. After I see it, I may or may not have any comments.”

Sophia Chote, SC, immediate past president of LATT, said the process for awarding silk ought to be reviewed, in a brief statement to Newsday by text.

Newsday asked if the system needed a review, especially as the Prime Minister seemed to have the ultimate say over this aspect of the legal profession, and whether other jurisdictions similar to Trinidad and Tobago have reviewed their processes.

Chote replied, “I agree that the system needs to be reviewed and LATT through its membership did a report on the matter in 2017 recommending changes in the process. “The Law Commission also did a report recommending changes.”

She said the system for appointment varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Chote concluded, “Our current system is outdated and the report of LATT should be given serious consideration by the officials responsible for changing the procedure.”