Former judge and minister Herbert Volney. –
JUDGE-TURNED-POLITICIAN Herbert Volney, 69, died on Wednesday morning, prompting a flood of condolences on social media. He is survived by his wife Trisha Mohan-Volney and their two sons and adult children from a previous relationship.
Dominican-born Volney served ten years (1979-1989) in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) where he rose to become Assistant DPP. He later became a High Court judge in 1994, but resigned suddenly to contest and win the St Joseph seat in the 2010 general election for the People’s Partnership (PP).
Questions were raised as to whether his sudden transition violated the constitutional ideal of a separation of powers between judiciary and executive.
Volney became a household name in 1998 after he directed a nine-member jury to return a not-guilty verdict against Brad Boyce, who was on trial for the unlawful killing of Jason Johnson in 1996. The matter was appealed all the way up to the Privy Council which ruled in 2006 that Volney was wrong. However, no retrial was ordered because of the amount of time which had elapsed by then.
He faced public backlash again when in 1999 when he upheld a no-case submission in the case of businessman Rick Gomes and Luis Gomez who were on trial for cocaine possession.
The PP government split the roles of the AG’s Ministry into three ministries, with Volney as justice minister, alongside minister of legal and consumer affairs Prakash Ramadhar, and Anand Ramlogan as AG.
However, Volney was fired in September 2012 by then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar who accused him of misleading the Cabinet.
He was blamed, and accepted responsibility, for the early proclamation and eventual assenting of an amended section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act. This opened the door for suspects, including those in the Piarco airport expansion corruption case, to apply to have their cases discharged on the basis that more than ten years had elapsed without their matters being brought to conclusion. The law was repealed after a public uproar.
A UNC statement on Wednesday said, “The United National Congress extends its condolences to the family of former Minister of Justice, Herbert Volney.
“We are grateful for his service to Trinidad and Tobago as a judge and a minister. May he rest in peace.”
Health Minister and St Joseph MP Terrence Deyalsingh, in a text message to Newsday, said St Joseph had lost one of its own.
“I am very saddened at the news especially as he contacted me on an issue just last week.
“He supported me in many ways, and I extend my heartfelt condolences to his family. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
After Jack Warner’s firing from Cabinet by Persad-Bissessar, Warner resigned as Chaguanas West MP, formed the ILP and then won the subsequent by-election in his own right.
However when Volney was axed as minister, he left the UNC prompting the PNM to invoke crossing-of-the-floor legislation to make him resign his seat.
Deyalsingh won the subsequent by-election, beating the UNC’s Ian Alleyne and ILP’s Om Lalla.
Two young politicians from different camps shared positive memories of Volney with Newsday.
Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland said, as an attorney he had appeared before Volney but had not known him personally nor politically.
“I recall that as a young attorney coming up, doing legal aid, he’d be very generous. You had a limit and he’d allow you to collect at the upper end of the limit.”
Hailing Volney as “a very dynamic judge, in the good sense of the word,” Scotland recalled him throwing out a case due to oppression.
“He was never afraid to push the envelope.
“Generally, it was always an experience to appear before him.”
Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial, also an attorney, viewed him as “colourful” but hailed his “revolutionary” move of setting up a ministry of justice under the PP.
“Upon our return to office, we’d certainly want to recreate it.”
Lamenting the judiciary’s reliance on the AG’s ministry even as the AG appeared as a party before judges, she said, “So it is preferable we have a separation.”
She urged a focus on judicial-system reform, lamenting the Forensic Science Centre’s transfer from the former justice minister to the very large Ministry of National Security.
Lutchmedial reflected, “On a personal level, Volney as a judge, I would have known him.
“He was a very animated and colourful character.” She said Volney came out of the DPP’s office and then had an interesting stint on the bench until entering politics.
“So regardless of how it started or how it ended, the emphasis on reform of the criminal justice system is something we will remember about his campaigning and his public statements.
“After he demitted office he continued to be an avid social media user, commenting on issues of the criminal justice system and as a person from the inside he was able to give a certain perspective.”