The trinidad Guardian / Last Monday, as the country looked on with amazement at the bizarre, almost comical collapse of a special general meeting of the membership of the Law Association requested by 30 members, I was reminded of the infamous quote by President George Bush on August 5, 2004, when he said, “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”
The Legal Profession Act requires the association to convene such a meeting provided at least 25 members in good financial standing request one. The purpose for which the meeting was called was to move a motion of no confidence in the president and vice president of the association (respectively Mr Reginald Armour, SC, and Mr Gerry Brooks) “for failing to consult with the membership of the Law Association to obtain its views on the Strategic Services Agency (Amendment) Bill prior to meeting with the Honourable Attorney General being a bill of grave public importance regarding the constitutional rights of citizens.”
Among the members who signed the requisition were former PNM and UNC senator and former ILP chairman Robin Montano, former PP AG Anand Ramlogan, former PP minister Colin Partap, UNC Senator Wayne Sturge, and occasional UNC Senator Gerald Ramdeen. This was not surprising as opposition politicians (who opposed the bill) have been reminding us that Mr Armour once represented Dr Rowley and was once a business associate of sorts of the AG Mr Al-Rawi, and that Mr Brooks is the chairman of NGC under the PNM Government and therefore, they are “PNM”.
That being the case, the perception was that the request to hold a special general meeting was some kind of political play, designed to “out” the association leadership as PNM, in cahoots with the Government, and therefore not fit to lead the association which the membership could condemn by declaring no confidence. Mr Armour quickly rubbished the requisition stating that both he and the vice president had, with the authority of the Council of the Law Association, met with the AG and duly reported to council on the meeting.
That being said, while nothing states that a requisition cannot be signed because the signatories’ motives are political, one would expect and hope that an august group such as lawyers would not descend to such behaviour. However, that does not detract from the feeling that historically there have been attempts by governments of the day to seek to dominate the Law Association and thereby get its support. Let us not forget there is always the lure of lucrative state brief-a carrot-and-stick approach that has caused many in the profession to compromise their integrity.
From the time the requisition was published in the newspapers on July 2, the entire process began to unravel. On that same day, a senior attorney distanced himself from the requisition which bore his signature, stating that he was surprised by the no-confidence motion, and assured us all that he had every confidence in the president and vice president. If that wasn’t puzzling enough, a few days later seven more signatories abandoned the requisition, including former PP minister Partap, saying that when they signed “the signature sheet” they “were unaware of the full nature and background of the requisition” and “had no intention whatsoever…to move a vote of no confidence against anyone.”
By July 22 another four signatories withdrew, making the total 12. Allegedly, Mr Montano was found not to be a financial member, making it 13, so that the requisition was now supported by 17 and not 25 as required by the act. Nonetheless, a decision was taken to still hold the meeting to put it to the membership present (over 300 members) to decide whether or not to proceed.
Not surprisingly, after it was formally revealed that 12 signatories had disavowed the requisition, the members present voted to scrap the meeting and the no-confidence motion. Mr Ramlogan, former AG, was conspicuously absent, as were many of the attorneys who raked in exorbitant fees under the PP. Of the well-known signatories, only Messrs Sturge and Ramdeen were present and, no doubt humiliated by the collapse of the play and absence of allies, said nothing at the meeting. However, in a statement reminiscent of his leader’s speech on October 21, 2013, Mr Sturge told the waiting media outside the Hall of Justice, “We won before we started, because we embarrassed them into action.” Needless to say, Mr Sturge was not entirely persuasive.
Two things can be noted from this debacle. Firstly, if it was a UNC political play, it was blundering at its best, and not out of character of this Opposition-unwilling to put country before self, no belly, no fight, no loyalty, no commitment to the cause. And so, if in fact the PNM does have control of the leadership of the association (and this is not suggested), once again it had victory handed to it by the haplessness of the UNC.
Secondly, what caused the turnaround by the 12? Did they not know what they were signing either because of an alarming incompetence or because they were somehow misled, and if so, by whom? Were they suddenly apprehensive that they would somehow suffer prejudice in their careers or were they actually threatened? We will never know.
What we do know is the only real consequence of this bizarre diversion is the further loss of confidence by our people in yet another one of our institutions. Is this something we can afford at this time?