By Raffique Shah
October 17, 2022
To think that once upon a time, many years ago, I actually considered pursuing law as a profession. Naïve, idealist I, would have been torn apart by the dogs of law, drawn and quartered by the merchants of justice, or, who knows, I might have succumbed to the practitioners’ code of compliance, casting aside shame and dignity, fight for my slice of the largesse from the multi-million dollars in “briefs” advocates at stake every living-or-dying day in this country. So much litigation.
Practising law was and is, in the opinion of many, a noble profession. After all, revolutionaries of stature, such as Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi were lawyers, as they were called at that time, and they never compromised their ideals when they appeared in court. I had several friends here in Trinidad for whom I had great respect: Allan Alexander, Desmond Allum and Lennox Pierre, to name three, whose integrity was never challenged.
They, and some notable others, were lawyers of impeccable character, and they were damn good advocates in court-rooms across the country, in the wider Caribbean, and even at the Privy Council in London where they appeared from time to time. To see Algernon “The Pope” Wharton perform was a treat that court-watchers would not forego, so polished was he in his craft.
But Cyril Lionel Robert [CLR] James would have none of it when I consulted with him in the aftermath of the 1970 revolution, which was when I met the man I consider our greatest philosopher ever, and when I learned to value his advice. He said, “It is to your credit that you were schooled and trained at Sandhurst for two years.”
“From what you told me,” he continued, “you have entered universities only to lecture to them or participate in discussions and forums. They mess with your mind, these universities.”
So I never attended university, although I gave advice to attorneys who represented me or corporations for which I worked, from time to time, in court. But I kept abreast of what was happening with respect to the laws of T&T—amendments, repeals, etc, and even more importantly, the fees that law firms and attorneys charged for their services. They were astronomical, especially where government or its agencies had to pursue litigation. Mere writing a legal letter costs thousands of dollars. I noticed that attorneys were charging clients by “the hour” and their rates were almost punishing.
More than that, court matters, especially civil cases, were taking inordinately long periods of time to be resolved, if ever they were. A natural consequence of the above is that criminal matters in which many of the accused were remanded in custody, seemingly forever, a clear case in my mind of the justice system gone mad. Now, I don’t want to get my old, semi-crippled backside in jail, not again, and not at this stage of my life. So I must be careful of what I write here. With that sword of justice hanging over the heads of commentators like me, there is just so much we can write.
In the current imbroglio involving the State, the Attorney General and scores of senior counsel, King’s Counsel and what have you, the sums of taxpayers’ money expended in litigation seem to be more than overall appropriations to entire ministries in the annual budget. The State [which is we, the people] pays for the parties suing us, the attorneys representing us and assorted other expenses—cost of courthouse building upkeep, the police involved and other expenditures too numerous to count.
I could not help but notice coming up from the courts recently, videos showing ex-AG Anand Ramlogan and his “brother in law” Gerald Ramdeen smiling smugly as several charges of serious nature filed against them were discontinued. These two seemed to have mastered the art of having the State pay to lock them up and, later, paying even more damages to them. I get the impression there are many more similar matters involving the State and hundreds, if not thousands of citizens, which have cost people of this country huge sums of money over the years.
When one considers the “dramatis personae” in all of these matters over decades, few, if any being resolved, we see an enormous burden on taxpayers. We get nothing out of it except a judicial system so weighted with litigation that it takes lifetimes for many matters to be resolved, by which time the litigants, well, members of the public anyway, die and leave them still pending.
Surely, at this rate, we are going nowhere and getting there slower and slower. One day soon, this litany of litigation will either explode or collapse, and leave many of us who have nothing to do with them, dead, badly injured or mentally scarred. So not only will we have a million-plus mad people in the country, but the whole system gone stark-staring-mad. Mark my words.