PM’s Veto Unfathomable

By Onika James
September 19, 2009 –

Trinidad and Tobago News Blog

HousePrime Minister Patrick Manning’s veto of Carla Brown-Antoine for the post of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Government’s “retrograde step” to set up a Ministry of Justice are “dark clouds” over the Judiciary and the administration of justice, Law Association president Martin Daly SC warned yesterday.

As he criticised Manning’s “exercise of the constitutional veto” of Brown-Antoine as DPP, Daly praised Chief Justice Ivor Archie’s “wonderful dissertation” in the defence of the independence of the Judiciary.

Daly, however, did not spare some members of the judicial arm and took a swipe at a judge for his “ill-considered statements” on an affidavit which superior courts had ruled were “irrelevant and scandalous”, saying his action was one of the “cloudy” events which hung over the Judiciary in recent months.

The senior counsel launched these salvos during a special sitting to welcome Brown-Antoine on her appointment as a judge of the High Court at the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain yesterday.

“This is an occasion of enormous delight to the council and members of the Law Association,” Daly said in a brief speech which ranged from lofty praises to Brown-Antoine to strong condemnation of the Executive.

He described Brown-Antoine’s elevation to the bench as “a burst of warm and brilliant sunshine in the midst of what have been several cloudy months of the Judiciary” and commended her “quiet dignity” in accepting Manning’s veto.

Manning rejected the Judicial and Legal Services Commission’s nomination of Brown-Antoine for the substantive post of DPP, after she had been acting in the position since January 5 of this year. Manning also vetoed the JLSC’s subsequent nomination of Deputy DPP Roger Gaspard.

Daly said for “some undisclosed and unfathomable reason” Brown-Antoine’s confirmation as DPP “did not find favour” and there was an “irony in this” since the “subject matter of a constitutional veto is entitled to know the reasons for the exercise of the constitutional power.”

The country, he said, “suffered a grevious loss when it was deprived of the confirmation of Brown-Antoine’s services as Director of Public Prosecutions.”

“The damage to the office of DPP is continuing and is highly regrettable. We thank God that we have now gained your services as a High Court judge.”

Daly said Brown-Antoine is already in “the law reports” for her decision to prosecute former chief justice Satnarine Sharma for trying to influence the outcome of an integrity matter involving former prime minister Basdeo Panday, while she was Deputy DPP. Sharma was subsequently cleared.

He said if she had challenged Manning’s veto he was sure she would have been successful.

“I am confident that Your Ladyship’s name would have again entered the law reports, this time, not as a respondent, but as a claimant in a public law case, challenging, successfully I am sure, the (Prime Minister’s) failure to give reasons for the exercise of the constitutional veto.”

He further raised concerns not only about the power of the Executive over the appointment of a DPP but of a Solicitor General as well. Both posts remain vacant.

As the Chief Justice did in his address at the opening of the law term on Wednesday, Daly also took a swipe at the Government’s working document on a draft constitution as it relates to the Judiciary. “The intention of the political Executive, if permitted, to take the retrograde step of establishing a Ministry of Justice to interfere in the institutional independence of the judiciary.”

He said the Chief Justice’s stinging condemnation of the draft constitution was a “wonderful dissertation…on the independence of the Judiciary.”

The Chief Justice had said several clauses in the document were “worrisome” and threatened to strip his office of its authority and undermine the rights of citizens.

Although he did not name him, Daly referred to Justice Rajendra Narine’s statements on an affidavit which the Appeal Court and the Privy Council ordered be “struck out” of Jamaat al Muslimeen leader Abu Bakr’s challenge of the State’s sale of his properties to recover $32 million for damage to buildings during the 1990 attempted coup.

Narine, who is now an Appeal Court judge, said the allegations in the affidavit should be investigated and had copies sent to the police and office of the DPP. Among the allegations was that the Prime Minister had promised Bakr to forgive the debt in exchange for the Jamaat’s support in the 2007 general election.

In reference to Narine, Daly said, “Ill-considered statements by persons who should know better, that struck out affidavits may not be used,” was another cloudy moment in the Judiciary’s recent history. Narine’s statements were also addressed earlier this week by Attorney General John Jeremie who advised the Parliament that he had written the Chief Justice on the matter.

Given the publicity of these recent events, Daly said the Law Association would give a statement soon.


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