THE abdication of solemn responsibility continues. The Prime Minister rejected the recommendation of the Law association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) to invoke Section 137 of the Constitution allowing the President to appoint an independent tribunal to investigate the allegations against Chief Justice Ivor Archie. LATT had based its recommendation on advice from “two regional senior and well-respected lawyers with no local political connections”.
In addition, three Appeal Court judges also point to the need for a tribunal. Justices Mendonca, Jamadar and Bereaux agreed the allegations “are serious and can damage the Judiciary and undermine public confidence in the administration of justice and the rule of law”; “may have already undermined the judicial integrity” of the CJ; and “these allegations justify such an enquiry”
But in the face of such overwhelming, expert opinion, Rowley sought advice from a single British QC, Howard Stevens, on whose recommendation, he decided to take no action. Behold the great abdicator!
In a lucid, reasoned letter to the PM, the president of LATT, Douglas Mendes SC, exposed flaws in Stevens’ advice, reminded Rowley of his responsibility as Prime Minister and informed him of LATT’s intention to seek Judicial Review of his decision. Cornered, he again resorted to bluster. At a political forum last Sunday, he heaped virulent scorn on the Law Association and thundered: “All of them who you see carrying on with this story, they have a problem with the Chief Justice’s lifestyle! They wanted to use me to carry out their private and secret talks. I work for the people of T&T. I don’t work for the Law Association! We will ignore them totally,” he promised party faithful
He then trained his guns on the Judiciary, saying they are ignorant of “what is going on in Trinidad and Tobago“ and are “the bleeding heart for criminals”
Reporting on both attacks, a Guardian front page termed it “Rowley’s Rage”, recalling the “raging bull” description by his former boss, the late Patrick Manning
We should be thankful LATT is not cowed and for Mendes’ elegant response. He states LATT’s “major concern” is the allegation that the Chief Justice had made recommendations to the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) for certain applicants and lobbied senior HDC officers and the Prime Minister himself
What is wrong with that, you may ask? Well, as both Stevens and LATT agree, a Chief Justice who nominates someone for State housing and then lobbies for the application to be fast-tracked, could end up obligated to the political directorate. LATT says this constitutes misbehaviour because “such conduct creates the dangerous perception that the Chief Justice may be beholden to the Executive to return the favour at some further date.” Dangerous indeed, compromising the independence of the Judiciary and violating the separation of powers on which our democracy is based!
And the CJ had in fact recommended two persons in 2013 as confirmed by Brent Lyons, HDC managing director, to LATT’s investigative committee. In addition, Stevens accepted the Honourable Chief Justice had gone further and enlisted the assistance of a “friend to seek favourable consideration” for two applicants. Which high official is this “friend”?
But in this utterly critical matter, neither Archie nor Rowley co-operated with LATT’s investigation. Why? Was there something to hide? The situation is extremely murky. Because, as one editorial recalls, “in a public statement on December 2018, the Chief Justice did not deny he had recommended to the Prime Minister the names of three people to obtain housing.” Yet, much later, there came Rowley’s “belated denial” of any communication between himself and Archie on the issue. Mendes opines this “may be insufficient to eradicate the cloud which was allowed to hang over the Chief Justice for so long.” The Senior Counsel says “it would have been the easiest thing to deny the allegation if it were untrue”, and makes the damning but justified observation that “the failure to make a prompt denial could naturally lead to the conclusion that “there was some truth to it”, particularly since Archie had denied some of the other allegations. But “not this one,” Mendes emphasised, referring to the allegation that Archie had lobbied Rowley on behalf of his friends
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SUBSCRIBE/ LOG IN What is going on? Who is not being truthful? And to crown it all, Stevens says if it turned out there was such communication between the PM and CJ, his advice against invoking Section 137 would have been different. Mendes says this factor, “ought to have tipped the balance in favour of a tribunal to put any lingering doubts to rest”
But the Prime Minister says “the Office of the Prime Minister is being brought into disrepute because the Prime Minister didn’t carry out the instructions of the Law Association to impeach the Chief Justice“
This is deliberate distortion! But fodder for the faithful. LATT does not want the Prime Minister “to impeach the Chief Justice“. The prime minister has no such power. But he can invoke Section 137 for an independent tribunal to investigate the allegations. Why is Rowley afraid of an investigation? Is it to save his political skin? Is he afraid of affecting support in Trinidad and particularly Tobago from where both he and the Chief Justice originate? Who is the one bringing the PM’s office into disrepute?
The more they hide, the more questions will be asked, and the more we will hear an abdicator raging