Daly: Law Association’s participation in choosing silk ‘error of judgment’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Senior Counsel Martin Daly –

Senior Counsel Martin Daly, a past president of the Law Association, has added his voice to the raging debate over the selection of silk.

In a statement on June 27, Daly, who is also a former independent senator and a newspaper columnist, admitted he was “taken aback” when he read the e-mail report of the association’s president Lynette Seebaran-Suite to members on June 24.

“The participation of LATT was wholly inconsistent with LATT’s public stance in the matter, which is ‘a call for the reformation of the method of selection and appointment of senior counsel away from the sole choice of the Executive, in effect the Prime Minister, into a transparent and independent process which does not suffer from a lack of accountability,’” Daly said in his statement.

Daly was the association’s president from 2008-2010.

He viewed LATT’s decision to participate in the selection process, given its stance on reform, and in the way it did, as “ an error of judgment.”

He said, “I refer to the committee selected by LATT for the purpose of consultation on a list of applicants for appointment as senior counsel provided to LATT’s president by the Attorney General (the Consultation Committee).

“The membership of the Consultation Committee is being kept secret.

“The withholding of the names of the Consultation Committee is the epitome of the lack of transparency of which LATT has publicly complained.

“ Perhaps unwittingly, the association has made itself an accomplice in the lack of transparency and of accountability.”

Daly said he was reserving further comment on the debate in the hope that the names of the members of LATT’s Consultation Committee would be made public.

“Maintaining public trust and confidence requires the disclosure of those names,” he said.

In her e-mail of June 24, Seebaran-Suite outlined LATT’s involvement, and hers as president, in the 2024 selection process. She also said the Prime Minister had refused to meet with LATT in 2023 to discuss reforming the process.

Her explanation, which she said included consulting with fellow senior counsel on the list of names she received from the Attorney General on June 4, followed a media release from LATT on June 20.

In that release, LATT renewed calls for the adoption of the recommendations of its 2015 “silk report” on appointing senior counsel “to ensure a transparent and independent process of selection at specified intervals which is not subject ultimately to the dictates of the executive.”

Seebaran-Suite said in her e-mail LATT has been on record for several years as seeking reform, calling for a revision of the current method, independent of the Executive’s involvement as the final arbiter.

“Much has been said in the public domain about the need for transparency and independence and the undesirability of the appearance of political taint inherent in the current methodology.”

On the 2024 process, Seebaran-Suite said she received a letter from Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, on May 21, a little over a week after an invitation to attorneys to apply was gazetted on May 13.

She said Armour told her he received 53 applications, and she was given this list.

Seebaran-Suite said she received approval from LATT’s counsel to approach some senior counsel for their views on whom it would be appropriate to admit to the Inner Bar.

“The Executive approved a listing of the members of the Inner Bar whom I would approach to consult,” Seebaran-Suite disclosed in her e-mail explanation to members.

Newsday was told the “executive” comprises part of the association’s council.

She said on June 3, she met with those senior counsel who were available, and they were to send her their selections anonymously.

“I then finalised the persons whose names would be carried forward and communicated them to the Attorney General on June 5, 2024.

On June 4, she said, the AG wrote to tell her whose names he was submitting to the President.

“The AG had no further discussion with me before the announcement of the awardees.”

However, her explanation and LATT’s release raised more questions from attorneys on the association’s involvement in the process.

Attorney Darrell Allahar wrote to the LATT president on June 20, seeking answers and posing new questions to Seebaran-Suite.

Criminal Bar Association (CBA) president Israel Khan, SC, while defending Seebaran-Suite, in a statement on June 25, said “Frustration with the process was wrongly and unjustifiably directed to the president of LATT.”

Khan said it appeared there was no disagreement that the selection process should be changed or that the Government should have no role in deciding who should be awarded silk.

However, he said, she was in a difficult situation, as she continued to advocate to the membership the need for the independent committee but participated in the process in 2024, but noted she had a duty to assist even though it was the association’s collective belief the process was flawed.

In March 2023, Khan filed an interpretation summons seeking to have the courts declare the current procedure for appointing silk unconstitutional, as he claims it breaches the separation of powers through the involvement of the Prime Minister in the selection process. The LATT is a party to his claim.

On June 26, attorney Wayne Sturge sent a freedom of information request to the Attorney General seeking answers on the 2024 appointment of senior counsel.

Sturge’s 22 questions asked for the names of those who submitted applications in 2024 and those considered suitable for silk, details on the consultation process between the AG, the PM, the Chief Justice and LATT, the methodology of the consultative process and the evaluative criteria or weighting system used to select successful applicants, among other things.

On June 17, President Christine Kangaloo presented instruments of appointment to 13 attorneys. Two more were given their instruments on the succceding days, as they were not in the country at the time. One more is expected to receive an instrument, bringing the total to 16.

In her explanation to LATT’s membership, Seebaran-Suite said the practice of consulting with the president of LATT had existed for many years, and said she took part in it primarily for two reasons

These, she said, were: “The attempt to seek reform of the process in 2023 had been stymied by the outright refusal of the Prime Minister to even meet with us and the speed with which the appointments were made without further referral to LATT after the refusal of the request for a meeting.

“The desirability nevertheless of participating in the process as a courtesy and to provide some guidance on the appointments notwithstanding the limitations of the engagement.”