SATURDAY’S CHILD: Another fine mesh
“If she wanted silk so badly she should have gone to Victoria’s Secret!”
This is just one of the comments that followed the announcement that the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago (TnT) had been made a Senior Counsel (SC) by the president of the Republic of TnT acting on the recommendation of the prime minister, who acted on the recommendation of the Attorney General (AG), who also got “silk”.
There is speculation about how that process transpired between the PM and the AG. Was her name on the initial list that he put forward and, if so, was it to ensure that his name was not crossed out and his suggestions were accepted?
Did the PM ask for her name to be included and, as an afterthought, sought to “salt” the mine by putting in some 24-carat nuggets to justify her own selection?
Because also bound in the same silken threads are the Chief Justice of the country, an Appeals Court judge and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
A few lawyers also found themselves in the mix, albeit peripherally, and many who were considered deserving found themselves left out.
Questions have been raised over the role of the prime minister bestowing the title on herself, seeing that she is the office holder who recommends the appointments.”
Immediately after the news broke, several legal luminaries (shimmering in silk) had their say.
Karl Hudson-Phillips, a former AG, has no problem with silk for the AG but described the acceptance of silk by the Chief Justice and another judge as “a grave matter and a serious contradiction for a judge to request or accept silk if offered . . . . It flies in the face of the hallowed principle of the separation of powers. It also compromises the perception of both the judiciary and the Bar”.
Former Chief Justice of TnT and president of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Michael de la Bastide, supported Hudson-Phillip. In his view, awarding “silk” to two sitting members of the judiciary is an aberration with the potential to cause much embarrassment among Commonwealth counterparts and provide a possible source of amusement over what is “an obvious gaffe”.
However, there is more to being a Queen’s or Senior Counsel than prestige, wearing a different type of coat or carrying a red bag.
The real deal is that SCs are allowed to charge several times the fee that non-SCs (or “Juniors”) charge. One thing that everyone in TnT knows, regardless of political affiliation, is that when you reach the stage where you have to hire an SC you and your family will have to pay through your nose and every other orifice.
My cynical friends had their say. “Every cloud has a silver ‘linen’, even a silk cloud”, one who knows my love of puns said.
“The bad news is that the PM gave herself silk. The good news is that she has seen the writing on the wall and is preparing for her imminent departure from office and has to go back to her law practice, which was not much in the first place. Clearly the writing is on the wall for her but at least she can earn big money in addition to her pension.”
Similar harsh comments have been made about judges and senior lawyers like the DPP returning to private practice and what an SC would mean to their business and wealth-amassing prospects.
It is clear that the entire situation was mishandled and that there must be a process that is objective and transparent. In Britain, lawyers who feel they deserve silk apply and a selection is made by an independent panel.
However, I feel sorry for the two judges caught up in what is perceived as the “politricks” of a “Carnation” government (one in which public confidence has totally evaporated).
As another friend said, “The whole sequence of events is stranger than strange” and reminded me of an old joke. A former politician and Senior Counsel named Strange died, and his friend asked the tombstone maker to inscribe on his tombstone, “Here lies Strange, a politician, a Senior Counsel and an honest man.”
The tombstone maker gravely insisted that such an inscription would be confusing. Passers-by would tend to think that three men were buried under the stone. He suggested an alternative.
He would write, “Here lies a man who was a politician, a Senior Counsel and an honest man.” That way, whoever walks by the tombstone and reads it would be sure to remark: “That’s Strange!”