Law Association president: PM refused to meet on silk appointments

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Lynette Seebaran-Suite – Jeff K Mayers

LAW Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) president Lynette Seebaran-Suite, SC, says the Prime Minister refused to meet to discuss the process to appoint senior counsel (silk) in 2023.

She told LATT members this in an e-mail on June 24.

She also explained LATT’s involvement in the 2024 selection process. She said in 2023, when invited to consult, LATT sought a meeting with the Prime Minister to “persuade the Executive to reform the process.

“The request was flatly refused by the Prime Minister.”

On the 2024 process, she said she received a letter from Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, on May 21, a little over a week after an invitiation attorneys to apply for admission to the Inner Bar 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, 2024, the AG wrote to me informing me of the names which were being submitted by him to the President.

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

On June 17, President Christine Kangaloo presented instruments of appointment to 13 attorneys at a ceremony at President’s House, St Ann’s. 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 number to 16 attorneys conferred with the title of senior counsel.

Seebaran-Suite said the practice of consulting with the president of LATT had existed for many years.

“My decision to engage with the process was informed primarily by two factors.”

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.”

In a statement on June 20, LATT renewed calls for the adoption of the recommendations of its 2015 “silk report” on the appointment of 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 LATT has been on record for several years as seeking reform. She again referred to the “silk report,” produced by the association in 2015 and adopted by its membership, 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.”

Seebaran-Suite said LATT fully endorsed these sentiments.

She also said the association was waiting on the outcome of the High Court action filed by Senior Counsel Israel Khan, earlier this year.

“It is my view that the LATT’s participation, as set out above, cannot be said to compromise LATT’s long-standing position that the process of appointment to silk must be reformed.

“Rest assured we shall continue to advocate accordingly.”

Attorney Darrell Allahar, who wrote to the president on June 20, seeking answers, said of her explanation, “I think that anyone reading this can draw their own conclusions.

“The LATT process is as murky as Manzanilla water in the rainy season.

“What was not disclosed is as curious as what was shared with us.”

Allahar had more questions, “How did the LATT Executive choose the senior counsel they wished to consult?

“How many ‘silks’ were available and were consulted? Why would those silks wish to make their picks anonymously? Why was the Executive of LATT involved in the selection committee? Were those executive members senior counsel as well?

“How did the committee decide on the number of names to carry forward to the AG?

What method was adopted by the President of LATT when she finalised the list of names that were carried to the AG?”

He also wanted to know if the AG’s recommendations were made without resumes or application forms.

“In light of the membership of LATT’s acceptance of the recommendations of the silk report, I cannot fathom how courtesy can justify the (LATT) president’s participation in the existing process of awarding silk.

“The LATT process appears to be as arbitrary and opaque as the system the LATT wants to make more transparent!

“I suppose the membership would ultimately be the ones to say how they feel about what was done in their name and on their behalf. I for one am extremely surprised and disappointed.

“They should have informed the membership of their intention to participate upfront and provided this information before.

“I suppose they thought forgiveness would be easier to obtain than permission.”

On June 21, attorney Kelvin Ramkissoon, who applied in 2023 and 2024, said in a letter to Seebaran-Suite that if LATT “participated in or had any involvement in the process it had “surrendered its moral authority to comment, let alone deprecate the process.”

On June 23, the Prime Minister defended this year’s selection of senior counsel, who included former attorney general and current Rural Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi, Energy Minister Stuart Young and Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland.