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PM Patrick Manning addresses Senate on CJ controversy
Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Full address by Prime Minister Patrick Manning in the Senate yesterday

Madam President, I wish to thank you for this opportunity to address this Honourable Senate this afternoon, and through you, the national community on a matter of tremendous importance which has come into the public domain.

In mid-January, the Prime Minister received two items of correspondence emanating from the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions making several allegations against the Chief Justice in the discharge of his duties.

When these circumstances arise, the Constitution provides a process by which such matters are dealt with by the Prime Minister. According to the constitutional process, the Prime Minister must decide whether the question of removing the Chief Justice ought to be investigated. Naturally, such a decision should be made only:

a) After a thorough examination of the issues is undertaken and

b) If there is a serious enough case to answer.

Once the Prime Minister is satisfied that the investigation ought to be carried out, he must refer the matter to the President to appoint a Tribunal comprising judges and ex-judges from anywhere in the Commonwealth. If the Tribunal determines that the Chief Justice should be removed from office it refers the matter to the Privy Council for confirmation or otherwise.

We can see from the process outlined that the Prime Minister and Government have no authority whatsoever to remove a Chief Justice from office. That authority resides ultimately with the Privy Council and the Privy Council only.

It is extremely important to note that the Prime Minister does not determine guilt or innocence but merely satisfies himself that the question of removing the Chief Justice from office ought to be investigated.

I draw attention to and emphasise the fact that once the Prime Minister is in receipt of authentic correspondence and is satisfied after due enquiry that the question of removing the Chief Justice from office ought to be investigated, then the Prime Minister himself must act or be exposed to the serious accusation of dereliction of duty. In this regard, the Prime Minister must be slow to act and only after a thorough examination of the facts.

I now wish to inform the national community that upon receipt of the complaints, I invited the Chief Justice to my office on January 24, and advised him of the correspondence received from the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions, provided him with copies of the documents and requested him to respond in writing to the allegations.

On January 26, this conversation was formalised in writing with attached copies of the documents. The Chief Justice was requested to respond within a two-week time frame. The Prime Minister has received two separate items of correspondence from the Chief Justice, one dated February 1, raised inter-alia issues relating to the constitutionality of the provisions of the part of the Constitution where the procedure to be followed in these circumstances is outlined. The other received on February 8 responded to allegations raised by the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Upon receipt of these two letters, I sought advice from Senior Counsel who recommended that the response received on February 8 should be referred to the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions for comment. This has been done.

Madam President, as a consequence of statements made in correspondence from the Chief Justice and the Director of Public Prosecutions indicating that in one of the meetings with The Chief Justice, former Director of Public Prosecutions and now High Court Judge, Mr. Justice Mark Mohammed was present, the Prime Minister wrote to Mr Justice Mohammed on February 14, requesting his assistance in providing further and better particulars in an effort to garner as much information as possible.

When all of this information is received, it is the intention of the Prime Minister to continue his consultation with his legal constitutional advisors, one from Trinidad and Tobago and two from the United Kingdom who have acknowledged expertise in these matters to assist; in determining if there is a serious enough case to answer to warrant the setting up of a Tribunal to investigate the matter.

It must be made absolutely clear that one of the complainants in this matter is the Attorney General who is legal advisor to the Prime Minister and Government of Trinidad and Tobago. It follows, therefore, that in this particular matter the advice of the Attorney General cannot be sought because of the obvious conflict of interest. Accordingly, the Prime Minister is receiving appropriate advice from eminent senior counsel in Trinidad and Tobago and, in due course, the United Kingdom.

It can, therefore, be seen that the Prime Minister has not come to any conclusion or decision in the matter since he is not yet in possession of the totality of the facts. The matter is still in a fact-finding phase and it is anticipated that this can continue a white longer until all of the required information is available.

Let me give the assurance that the Prime Minister has not met a single judge of the High Court or the Appellate Division and I hope that those who are peddling information will note that no judge, whether by invitation or appointment or request, has been seen by the Prime Minister. These inaccuracies are not helpful in what is already a most delicate and sensitive matter.

As the process unfolds, I advise that the national community can rest assured that your Prime Minister shall continue to act in accordance with, and adherence to the Constitution, and on the basis of sound advice. I shall not refrain from acting if the occasion demands, but I shall act fairly. I shall condemn no one and I am mindful of the solemnity and consequences of this process that is underway. If at the end of that process, it is felt that no further action should be taken, then the matter ends there.

Nonetheless, we must deprecate in the strongest terms those who express views of intending gloom, and plots, and who see ethnicity in every facet of activity. They are urged to desist from their intense determination to divide and fragment the society.

Similarly, the national community is advised that the Government has taken note of the threat of violence emanating from one important quarter. In response to this threat, I merely wish to state that the Government acknowledges its responsibility to preserve law and order in this society, a responsibility that we will discharge without fear or favour.

Madam President, this is indeed a challenging time. All of us would have preferred to let this cup pass. But Government is about ensuring that equality of opportunity and common fairness apply to all of us however powerful or weak we might seem to be.

This Government is about building a collaborative society that is assured of Justice, Fairness and Equity.

We, therefore, assure all citizens that the Government will respect the Constitution as we have always done, and permit the Constitutional process to be observed in the quest of fairness to all.

When the occasion next arises, I shall advise the national community of any pertinent developments germane to this matter.

Thank you Madam President.

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