No to “Silk” in TT
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Embattled Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Court of Appeal Judge Wendell Kangaloo yesterday said they had decided to return their instruments appointing them “Senior Counsels” but maintained that they did “no wrong” in accepting the appointments from President George Maxwell Richards late last month.
The two jurists met with the head of state and a statement issued by the Court Protocol and Information Unit afterwards, said that they “expressed their views on the ongoing debate on their receipt of Silk as sitting judges of the Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago”.
The debate was sparked by separate letters published in the local media by two prominent jurists calling on Justices Archie and Kangaloo to hand back their senior counsel appointment given to him and 14 other lawyers, including Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar and her attorney general Anand Ramlogan.
In separate letters, former chief justice and president of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Michael de La Bastide and prominent Queen’s Counsel Karl Hudson Phillips, urged that the instruments of appointments be return forthwith.
Acting Prime Minister Winston Dookeran said the controversy over the awarding of “Silk” has created the right opportunity for a constitutional public debate on such issues.
Dookeran, said he has “noted with interest the public debate that has emerged, which is linked under the premises of the separation of powers, as well as the processes by which these matters have been dealt with in the past and ought to be dealt with in the future”.
But in their statement, Justices Archie and Kangaloo said that they “remain firm in their view that no wrong was committed in their acceptance of silk from the President, and that their actions are very defensible and breached no protocol which was previously adhered to.
“However, they are deeply concerned that the heightening controversy has the potential to impact negatively on the Judiciary of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, and the relations it treasures with its stakeholders. “
As a result they said, they have taken the decision “to return the instruments which granted the title of Senior Counsel, so graciously presented to them…emphasising that they in no way wished to reproach his Excellency the President, nor the Executive by this decision.
“Their action was also taken in the interest of preserving the integrity and dignity of the Judiciary which is one of the fundamental pillars of democratic Trinidad and Tobago and which they are committed not only to robustly defend but also to scrupulously uphold,” the statement said.
The Director of Public Prosecution, Roger Gaspard, as well as the former speaker of parliament, Barry Sinanan were also afforded “Silk” by President George Maxwell Richards last month.
The appointments were proposed by Ramlogan and agreed to by Persad Bissessar, who then informed the Office of the President. The Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago and Chief Justice Archie were also consulted during the process.
“The award of Silk to an incumbent Chief Justice or to a sitting judge of the Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago is an aberration which if previously committed, should not have been repeated. The simple fact of the matter is that elevation to the rank of “Senior Counsel” or the award of Silk, as it is called, is an honour which can appropriately be conferred only on “counsel,” de La Bastide wrote.
de La Basttide, who retired as CCJ president last year, said that another practical consequence of taking silk is that an attorney who does so is thereafter required to have a junior when appearing in court.
In his letter, Hudson-Phillips, who also served as a judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC), said there is a surprising lack of understanding about the legal profession not just by the public but also by members of the profession as well.
“When something is seriously wrong one must have the courage to speak up and openly. Wrong must not be made right by silence. One should never stop casting pearls,” Hudson-Phillip said.
In outlining a history of the development of the legal profession here and the award of “Silk”, Hudson-Phillip said that “historically it has always been the advocates who impacted and shaped not only the public perception of the legal profession but often the course of public events”.
“It was an honorific title given in the name of the sovereign by Letters Patent to distinguished advocates (never solicitors) which carried considerable prestige and privileges but also certain obligations. None other than distinguished advocates were ever given the title.”
He said the independence of the judiciary is totally incompatible with holding a title which required service to the government. (CMC)