South lawyers: Let the people decide on CCJ

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Saira Lakhan, president of the Assembly of Southern Lawyers. –

PRESIDENT of Assembly of Southern Lawyers (ASL) Saira Lakhan is calling for an immediate convening of a special sitting of the Law Association (LATT) to “properly address” whether Trinidad and Tobago should adopt the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its final appellate court over the UK-based Privy Council.

Lakhan’s call was made in a statement in response to a suggestion by LATT’s president Lynette Seebaran-Suite, SC, for TT to accede to the CCJ in honour of its first president and retired Chief Justice, the late Michael de la Bastide who died on March 30.

Lakhan spoke in her capacity as president of ASL. She said Seebaran-Suite’s views were not that of the association’s membership. She also said the decision to replace the Privy Council with the CCJ should be made by citizens.

At present, the Privy Council is TT’s apex court. Speaking at de la Bastide’s funeral on April 11, Seebaran-Suite advocated for the CCJ. She also repeated the call on April 12 at a special joint sitting of the CCJ and the Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago in de la Bastide’s honour and was joined by others who expressed the same sentiment.

“The best TT can do in his honour is to accede to the CCJ. He was the first president of the CCJ,” Seebaran-Suite said on Thursday.

She said it was “a bit ludicrous” that TT did not have the CCJ as its highest court, despite the court being located here and TT having provided the CCJ with many eminent judges, including de la Bastide, and currently Justice Maureen Rajnauth-Lee and Justice Peter Jamadar.

Seebaran-Suite’s sentiment was first articulated by Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, who said a fitting honour for de la Bastide would be to “complete” the latter’s dream of replacing the Privy Council with the CCJ.

However, in a statement on April 12, Lakhan said the comments of the Law Association’s president were “unfortunate” since they “may not be reflective of the general membership.”

She said Seebaran-Suite’s views gave the “obvious impression” that the latter was speaking on behalf of LATT since there was no disclaimer that her statements were her personal view and not that of the association’s members.

Lakhan, who is also a senior member of LATT, said, “Her statements were not endorsed nor sanctioned by the council nor the membership of the LATT.

“The issue of whether Trinidad and Tobago should adopt the CCJ as its final appellate court is a live issue to be determined by the membership of LATT and not the president of the association.”

Lakhan said LATT’s records would show that in July 2015, a special general meeting was held to discuss the issue and was “exceedingly well attended.”

However, a motion to adjourn the meeting was passed and as a consequence, deliberations were put off.

That meeting was held in July 2015 and information was shared with members on arguments for and against the idea, Lakhan said.

She said a symposium was then held in February 2016, which was attended by 65 members of the legal fraternity, including the Chief Justice and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

“Almost nine years have since elapsed, and LATT is yet to reconvene the adjourned special general meeting despite the membership being provided with a plethora of material and information.”

Lakhan also said on March 23, LATT’s members were invited to submit suggestions to the National Advisory Committee on Constitutional Reform and several of them shared their views on the abolishment of the Privy Council while others are of the view the apex court should remain until a decision is made by the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”

“Indeed, many of the leaders of the Bar in Trinidad and Tobago have publicly expressed this view over the years. Be that as it may, it is clear that there is a need for a consensus on this position from LATT’s general membership.”

“This is an important issue, which has far-reaching consequences not just to legal practitioners but to the citizenry of Trinidad and Tobago.” She also said it was important for the association to canvass the views of the legal fraternity before providing an “impartial outlook” on the issue.