Circling like corbeaux

By Raffique Shah
July 25, 2022

Raffique ShahNothing defined the great dividing line in this country the way the Law Association lawyers’ motion to have Attorney General Reginald Armour resign from office did when it came before the legal fraternity two weeks ago.

As people with an iota of common sense will have noted, while there was an element of race in the proceedings, it was not the only, or even the main factor that drove the campaign to oust the AG. It was all political—a straight case of who in the profession supported the incumbent PNM Government, or who supported the Opposition UNC. The stench of politics in what can be said to have been a minor confrontation was overpowering.

I am not in support of Mr Armour if he had knowingly misstated the facts surrounding his name appearing in a Florida court in the matter of the Piarco Six. It was reported that a judge there had the most scathing criticism of Armour for supposedly misleading the court. It is difficult to believe that in a matter as important as the trial for corruption of a number of prominent citizens of the country, that any lawyer, least of all the supposedly bright Mr Armour, would forget that he had appeared when he was senior counsel in the matter on behalf of one of the accused.

Based on what Prime Minister Keith Rowley and Mr Armour said afterwards, the new AG had recused himself from the matter before the stink hit the fan in Florida. That in no way exonerated him from trying ah ting to extricate himself when he realised how he had bungled the relatively simple issue. Once the issue was cleared by the Florida judge—and Armour other than seeking an apology from him to his brothers-in-law for misconduct—why are so many attorneys intent upon exploiting every legal loophole?

It had been 20-plus years since a group of politicians and businessmen, some holding at the time senior ministerial portfolios, were charged with corruption and misbehaviour in public office. At the time, two American contractors were charged in that jurisdiction with related offences. They were duly tried shortly after the year 2000, convicted and the two were sentenced to terms of imprisonment. The trial judge even ordered seizure of several properties they owned. They have probably moved on to greener pastures and are living their lives comfortably. Their only concern must be that they will be witnesses when the trial of the T&T businessmen comes to court, if ever it does.

The local corruption-accused have fought in every possible way to avoid appearing in the local court and having their names cleared of wrongdoing, as they insist is the case whenever they speak out on the matter. Now if it were only the accused who were seeking to keep themselves out of prison in the event of the trial that went completely bad for them, that could easily be understood by anyone. No one wants to go to jail. If readers need any explanation why prominent people “fraid” jail, they should ask me. I spent 27 months in the slammer, and with a team of “real” lawyers and significant inputs from myself and my comrade, Rex Lasalle, ensured we got a fair trial and were freed by both the local Court of Appeal and the Privy Council. I have lived such an exciting life post-prison that I often forget its formidable walls, though not its stench.

With respect to the subject matter, I find it difficult to understand why some of the accused in this matter—strong men of significant means—seek instead to evade, to avoid or to prevent the matter from coming to the courts. Unless someone bungled the heist that remains before the courts for over two decades, they should get over and be done with it one way or other. I am also intrigued by the speed with which a large number of lawyers who appear to be keenly focusing on the matter over so many years quickly grasp at any straw that would save their clients from being jailed.

The Section 34 matter comes to mind. The UNC was in office and lawyers from this same group that snapped up any apparent loophole to free their clients were poised to use a gaping escape tunnel out of Port of Spain prison that was built for them by the then-incumbent government. Luckily for justice, other interested groups and the media were there to cry foul and the matters were restored.

Some from that group are still circling the stench—if I were Kamla I might be tempted to say, like corbeaux looking for a meal. But I am not Kamla, I have a little more class than that. Trust me.