By Andre Bagoo
September 13, 2012 – newsday.co.tt
PRIME Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar issued directions to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to table last-minute amendments to bolster legislation designed to shield the State from the legal fallout of its decision to abruptly repeal Section 34 of the Administration of Justice Act, it was revealed yesterday.
Ramlogan told the House of Representatives that amendments to a bill designed to repeal Section 34, meant to “guillotine the neck and back of the problem”, were drawn up under supervision by the Prime Minister, as the Government sought to draw a line under a scandal which this week opened the entire Cabinet to allegations of abuse of office from the Opposition.
Ramlogan said Persad-Bissessar analysed a proposed law of repeal of the controversial Section 34 and issued specific instructions to expand the law in order to cut down any possible attempts by litigants to sue the State due to the Cabinet’s premature proclamation of the section. Among those affected are UNC patrons Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson, who are on fraud charges in relation to the $1.6 billion Piarco International Airport. They this week petitioned the High Court to declare them not-guilty under the law, because the case has been ongoing for ten years.
“It always helps to have a Prime Minister who has legal training and is a senior counsel,” Ramlogan told the House of Representatives. “Because when the Prime Minister and I met and sat down to consider these matters, when she analysed the law and looked at the concerns expressed and matched against the ramifications and implications of this law, these are the amendments that came up as a result of a consultation and discussion with the Honourable Prime Minister.”
He said the Prime Minister had instructed him to insert three amendments to yesterday’s repealing legislation with the aim of specifically shielding the State and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) from any legal fallout over the Cabinet’s early proclamation.
“It is a tack-back,” he said. He further claimed, “The guillotine will fall on the neck and back of this problem.”
“What we are seeking to do is to correct what was a clear oversight by the entire Parliament, the Opposition, the Independents and the Government or a failure to appreciate the unintended consequences and implications of that one provision.”
Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal tabled the repealing legislation, the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) (Amendment) Bill, 2012, at the sitting. The original bill had five clauses, including a clause making the provision retroactive to August 3. However, three more clauses were proposed pursuant to directions of the Prime Minister, Ramlogan said.
One of the three amendments proposed yesterday pushed the date of retroactivity back to December 2011, the date of the passage of the original legislation. A second amendment inserted a clause deploying a “permanent stay” on all current applications under the section for charges to be dropped. A third amendment attempted to shield the state from constitutional lawsuits. In relation to the “permanent stay”, Ramlogan circulated a new Clause 6 to the repealing legislation which reads: “All applications under the repealed section 34 which were pending immediately before the date of assent of this Act shall, on the coming into force of this Act, be permanently stayed.”
Of the legal shield, Ramlogan said another new clause would read: “Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, no rights or expectations shall be deemed to have been created or come into effect as a result of coming into force of Section 34 of the principal act.” He said the Prime Minister “advised” him to include this to stop people from suing the State and the Office of the DPP on the basis that the proclamation of the Section had created a “legitimate expectation” that the courts would provide redress.
“She did not wish that there be any argument about a legitimate expectation created by law or the Section during the short interregnum when it was valid law,” Ramlogan said. He did not speak to the question of whether the new law, due to be passed in both Houses by this evening, would itself be subject to constitutional challenge in court.
Though he admitted the Government was responsible for the current situation stemming from the early proclamation of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act, Ramlogan, in a jittery contribution, failed to explain why the legislation was proclaimed on August 28, in violation of assurances given by Minister of Justice Herbert Volney that the law would not be proclaimed before the passage of supplementary rules and other administrative matters, due years from now.
Persad-Bissessar did not address the House up to 7 pm last night. But earlier in the day, in cross-talk, she asserted that there was “no conspiracy” behind her Cabinet’s decision to advise President George Maxwell Richards to selectively proclaim Section 34 ahead of schedule. In a testy sitting, while seated, Persad-Bissessar told Opposition MPs, that the Government had come back to the House to “correct” the situation and “apply a full stop.” She dared the Opposition to bring evidence of a plot to free Galbaransingh and Ferguson, who this week sought to use the opening provided by the early proclamation of Section 34 to have Piarco Airport charges dropped.
The Prime Minister said, “Where was the conspiracy? Where was the collusion?”
Though Ramlogan said “we are all to blame” and that Government took responsibility, no apology was forthcoming and his contribution instead focused on attacking the Opposition. He accused the Opposition of “mischief” and declared he had conducted himself throughout in a manner that was above reproach.
Ramlogan said Government accepted responsibility and was now doing the right thing.
“If (our) noble intention had unintended consequences which have now come to light, well then we own up and take responsibility as a Parliament and we do the right thing,” Ramlogan said. “If there is blame to ascribe, the blame must be ascribed to all members of Parliament.”
He continued, “Let us not play cheap politics with this matter, let us rise to the occasion as a collective Parliament and let us say that the demonstration of our collective will and wisdom which was reflected in the bill that was passed with this clause, upon reflection we seek to correct it.”
“There is a lot of mischief and I take umbrage because I have conducted myself above reproach,” he said. Ramlogan sought to address the question of why the Cabinet had called on the President to proclaim Section 34 of the legislation, effective August 31, by saying the section would have been proclaimed in any event.
“I don’t know why my friends make such heavy weather in light of the fact that the applications under the section would have been made whenever Government proclaimed it,” he said. He did not address the question of why the Cabinet advised the President to proclaim the law effective August 28, amid 50th anniversary Independence celebrations and ahead of schedule.
There was also no response to concerns expressed by the US Embassy Tuesday in relation to the matter from the Attorney General, or Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Dookeran.
Yesterday’s 1.30 pm sitting got off to a jittery start. Because Ramlogan was late, the bill had to be tabled by Moonilal. The Prime Minister rose to make a statement, but instead of speaking of the issue of her own legal reforms, she announced the Budget date, a move which was criticised by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley as a clear distraction.
Deputy Speaker, Nela Khan, suspended the sitting for 15 minutes to allow Ramlogan time to arrive. He arrived at 1.50 pm after conferring with Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert on proposed changes to the bill. He then began to read his speech without actually moving that the bill be read a second time, as is stipulated in the Standing Orders. When he recovered from this error, he said, “Beg your pardon” but later fumbled at several points and appeared subdued.
However, Ramlogan came to life to attack the Opposition, and in particular Rowley, accusing all of hypocrisy. Though the Opposition had said it supported the act governing Section 34 only because it had been assured by Volney that the legislation would not be proclaimed before certain steps were taken, Ramlogan said the fact was the Opposition supported the bill.
Ramlogan incurred the wrath of Opposition Chief Whip Marlene Mc Donald when he questioned whether Imbert had, at one point in the debate of the original legislation to abolish preliminary inquiries, sought to protect PNM friends by seeking to reduce the cut-off time for proceedings from ten to seven years.
“Is it because you wanted to help someone?” Ramlogan said, “Who did you want to help? Did you want to help Calder Hart?”
“Madam Deputy Speaker, Standing Order 35(5) the member is imputing improper motives!” Mc Donald protested, loudly. She was overruled. Ramlogan continued, “Is it because you wanted to help out Andre Monteil, Ken Julien, Clico.”
He said Rowley was criticised in the Landate Report and was still the subject of police investigation in relation to it. He said the Larceny Act was applicable. Mc Donald objected on the same ground twice again. Khan had to tell Ramlogan, “I want to ask for you to confine yourself to the legislation.”
No criminal proceedings have been instituted against any of the persons or entities named by Ramlogan. Ramlogan also criticised the Opposition for criticising the Government at a press conference on Tuesday, even after notification that the Parliament would sit and the section be repealed. He said Government had the “phone records” to prove it had notified the Opposition.
Ramlogan said, “When I hear about conspiracy theories I ask myself what foolishness you are talking about. You voted for this! We all voted for this! We could go into all those things but I would not.”
In response, in cross-talk Laventille East/Morvant MP Donna Cox quipped, “You could go where you want, you have nothing else to go with!”