Ex-AG John Jeremie, Justice Henderson tipped for Appeal Court

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Former attorney general John Jeremie, SC, chats with president of the Criminal Bar Association Israel Khan, SC, during a historic joint sitting of the Caribbean Court of Justice and the Supreme Court, at the Hall of Justice to honour former chief justice Micheal de la Bastide on March 12. – Angelo Marcelle

Darren Bahaw and Jada Loutoo

News of the appointment of former People’s National Movement (PNM) attorney general John Jeremie, SC, who has been tipped to be sworn in as a member of the Court of Appeal has sent shockwaves among supreme court judges and senior members of the legal fraternity.

Jeremie, who served as attorney general in two PNM administrations between 2003-2007 and again in 2009-2010, has been the subject of criticism over his role in the criminal prosecution of former prime minister Basdeo Panday, former chief justice Satnarine Sharma, prominent vascular surgeon Prof Vijay Naraynsingh and the criminal investigation of former executive chairman of CL Financial Lawrence Duprey.

Judiciary sources said Jeremie was among 12 people who were interviewed by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) in March and was among the two final selections.

The members of the JLSC are Chief Justice Ivor Archie, the chairman, Winston Rudder, chairman of the Public Service Commission, attorney Elton Prescott, SC, Justice of Appeal Charmaine Pemberton and Dr Albert Persaud.

The last phase of the process before his appointment is a security vetting by the Special Branch of the police service which is at an advanced stage, Newsday confirmed.

Newsday contacted several senior members of the legal fraternity for comment but none were willing to respond on the record. Jeremie was contacted via WhatsApp on May 10 but offered no comment.

A source close to Jeremie said the former attorney general had not received any official communication from the Judiciary to confirm his impending appointment but noted Jeremie had not been in active politics for the past 15 years.

In the past, former chief justice Michael de la Bastide had appointed former National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) acting attorney general Amrika Tiwary-Reddy as a high court judge in 1999. She had been in active politics between in the early 1980s to 1991. Archie appointed Gillian Lucky, a former Congress of the People politician, who was a minister in the office of the attorney general in the People’s Partnership administration, to the bench in 2014. Closer to TT, Sir David Simmons of Barbados was appointed chief justice in 2001 after reitring from active politics that same year. He had served as attorney general in that country on two ocassion between 1985-1986 and 1994-2001.

One senior judge said, on the condition of anonymity, “If accurate, it will be clear that there is an intent to turn the judiciary into a party group.”

Another said, “it is interesting times,” while a third judge said, such an appointment is “bound to cause bacchanal.” Other senior lawyers preferred to comment only after the appointment is made.

Retired appeal court judge Stanley John, who had been close to former chief justice Sharma during his criminal investigation, said, “I have no comment,” in response to a WhatsApp query seeking comment.

Since demitting political office, Jeremie has been employed as a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine. He has an active legal practice through his firm, Alexander, Jeremie and Company, which has received briefs from the State.

The other successful candidate tipped to be promoted to the Court of Appeal is Justice Geoffrey Henderson, a former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and former judge of the International Criminal Court. Henderson crossed swords with Jeremie during his tenure in the Office of DPP.

Justice Geoffrey Henderson –

Details of the exchange between Jeremie and Henderson emerged in several letters disclosed in Parliament under the former UNC administration. The letters identified several instances of alleged overreach by the Office of the Attorney General to the Office of the DPP, a constitutionally independent office, in deciding who should face criminal charges.

Reliable judicial sources disclosed among the other High Court judges who were interviewed by the JLSC, at the service commission’s office along Cipriani Boulevard, Port of Spain, for elevation to the Court of Appeal were Justices Devindra Rampersad, Ricky Rahim, Frank Seepersad, and Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds. Other applicants included Justices Nadia Kangaloo, Avason Quinlan-Williams, Robin Mohammed, Allyson Ramkerrysingh and former temporary judge and member of the Police Service Commission Rajiv Persad.

In the past year, three senior judges of the appeal court have retired – Justices Allan Mendonca, Gregory Smith and Alice Yorke-Soo Hon. Smith was appointed a judge of the appeal court in the Bahamas in October 2023 while Soo Hon became president of the appeal court in Turks and Caicos in March.

At least two other appeal court judges have applied for jobs at other regional courts. The appeal court now comprises 14 judges – Archie, Nolan Bereaux, Prakash Moosai, Mark Mohammed, Peter Rajkumar, Charmaine Pemberton, Gillian Lucky, Mira Dean-Armourer, Vashiest Kokaram, Malcolm Holdip, Maria Wilson, Ronnie Boodoosingh, James Aboud and Carla Brown-Antoine.

Bereaux and Aboud are expected to retire in 2025.

During his first stint as attorney general under the Manning administration, there was a contentious relationship between Jeremie and then DPP Henderson. Jeremie had claimed then chief justice Sharma had approached him to get Henderson not to charge Naraynsingh with the murder of his estranged wife, Dr Chandra Naraynsingh.

Sharma was eventually charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice but the main witness against him, the chief magistrate, Sherman McNicolls, opted not to testify. The charge was discontinued on March 5, 2007.

In 2007, a Commission of Enquiry into the administration of justice chaired by retired Privy Councillor Lord Mustill had called upon Jeremie to clear up allegations that he was a co-conspirator in an elaborate scheme to get a CL Financial company to reimburse McNicolls almost $400,000 in a land transaction which had the effect of tainting the criminal trial of Panday who was before McNicolls on charges of failing to disclose a London bank account to the Integrity Commission.

Mustill had found the imputations coming out of the testimony of McNicolls, accusing Jeremie of colluding with then PNM treasurer Andre Monteil, a former CL Financial executive, had the effect of influencing Panday’s trial.

Jeremie appeared before the tribunal on September 21, 2007, but did not respond to those claims.

Mustill’s report concluded, “There is evidence, the weight of which we are not in a position to assess, that on May 8, 2006, the attorney general had attempted to use the chief magistrate’s first statement as a means of pressuring the chief justice to resign.

In May 2009, the Criminal Bar Association, then headed by attorney Desmond Allum, SC, had written to Henderson, demanding an investigation into whether Jeremie attempted to pervert the course of public justice or misbehaved in public office arising out of his reported involvement in the McNicolls land transaction.

The Privy Council in at least three separate judgments referred to the tainting by apparent political bias in the appeal cases of Sharma, Panday and several business people charged with corruption arising out of the Piarco Airport Development Project.