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Lawyers want CJ, Pres to come clean on JLSC fiasco

Published: 
Sunday, July 9, 2017

While retired Justices Humphrey Stollmeyer and Roger Hamel-Smith recently resigned from the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC) amid growing pressure, Chief Justice Ivor Archie yesterday remained adamant that he will not be following suit.

Archie’s defiance comes on the heels of calls from some of this country’s legal luminaries for the exact reason why Stollmeyer and Hamel-Smith resigned from the JLSC to be made public.

As Chief Justice, Archie is the chairman of the JLSC which now only has three members following the resignations of Stollmeyer and Hamel-Smith.

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request has also been sent by a concerned citizen calling on both Archie and President Anthony Carmona to make the resignation letters of Stollmeyer and Hamel-Smith public because they are “of great public importance”.

The FOIA request comes at a time when questions are still being asked by some of this country’s legal luminaries about the delay in the announcement of the resignations and whether the JLSC is properly constituted.

Senior Counsel Israel Khan has also called for a police investigation into the matter.

On Thursday, the Office of the President announced the resignations of Stollmeyer and Hamel-Smith.

This announcement came almost a week after both Hamel-Smith’s and Stollmeyer’s resignations became effective on June 30.

Both men submitted their resignation letters on June 22.

The resignation letters of the two justices were not made public, but Carmona, in a release issued on Friday, gave some of the details of their decisions.

Friday’s release quoted more extensively from Stollmeyer’s resignation letter, in which he claimed that the public uproar surrounding the cases left unfinished by Marcia Ayers-Caesar upon her short-lived appointment as a judge in April caused him to reassess his role in public life.

‘Days of secrecy long gone’

Archie was approached by the Sunday Guardian following the induction ceremony of Prof Brian Copeland as Pro Vice-Chancellor and Campus Principal of The University of the West Indies St Augustine campus

When approached, Archie said he had no comment on the resignations of Stollmeyer and Hamel-Smith.

He, however, maintained that he will not be resigning.

“I have no comment and by the way, I am not going to resign,” Archie added.

On June 2, following an unprecedented vote of no confidence in him by the Law Association and calls for him to step down, Archie told the Guardian he would not be resigning.

He maintained that position last night in the face of mounting pressure.

In an earlier email sent to Sherlanne Pierre, the administrative secretary to the Chief Justice, she said a response to queries by the Sunday Guardian will be forthcoming.

The Judiciary is expected to respond tomorrow.

Even as Archie remained defiant, citizen Matthew Mc Carthy from Sorzano Street, Arima, called on both him and Carmona to make the resignation letters of retired Justices Stollmeyer and Hamel-Smith public.

A FOIA request was sent by his attorney Reynold Waldropt.

“Our client is of the respectful view that this information should be provided as it involves a matter of great public importance and that it is in the public interest that it be made public,” the letter stated.

“The Judicial and Legal Service commission is a public body, which performs very important functions under the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

“It is important that the conduct of its affairs be open to scrutiny. Indeed, the days of secrecy and lack of transparency in the conduct of public affairs are long gone,” the letter stated .

“It is therefore our fervent hope that the requested material would be disclosed in the public interest,” the letter stated.

Mc Carthy is also calling for the “reason for the delay in making the resignations known to the public of Trinidad and Tobago”.

Khan: Mess cannot be swept under the carpet

Senior Counsel Israel Khan yesterday said the “mess” cannot be swept under the carpet.

“Justice Stollmeyer’s explanation for his resignation has exacerbated themes and it is now very pressing that a police investigation be launched in order to find out the true facts,” Khan said.

“From his explanation, he is saying that the JLSC did nothing wrong and he was hounded out of office. If this is true, then Marcia Ayers-Caesar is the culprit and thus she should be charged with misbehaviour in public office. But what if she is speaking the truth that she informed the JLSC that she had left behind twenty-eight part heard matters? Why then did the JLSC advise the president to appoint her? Most of all, after the s... hit the fan (with the violent protestations of the prisoners in open court) why did the JLSC force/trick her to resign as a judge of the High Court?

“This mess is getting ‘worser and worser’. Somebody is lying–but who? And that is what the stakeholders in this matter must know. The rule of law demands it. This mess must not be swept under the red carpet at the Hall of Justice,” he said.

Ramlogan: JLSC author of its own misfortunes

Former attorney general Senior Counsel Anand Ramlogan said the JLSC was the “author of its own misfortunes”.

“Whilst I sympathise and identify with the distress and inconvenience public criticism often causes, it is a necessary evil. That is why the right to freedom of expression and the right to a free press are enshrined as fundamental human rights in our Constitution,” he said.

“The unfortunate drama that has emerged on a piecemeal basis over the Marcia-Ayers fiasco, illustrates why the public and the media must have a right to criticize and question the conduct of officials who hold public office. There can be no sacred cows, lest there be the perception that there are different strokes for different folks,” Ramlogan said.

He said that the entire situation highlighted the need for “urgent reform” with respect to how judges are selected, and that the JLSC’s handling of the issues have raised more questions than answers.

“The process for the selection of judges has been shrouded in secrecy for far too long. There is great danger to our democracy if this is allowed to continue. There is need for urgent reform consistent with the principles of transparency, accountability and good governance. This will vindicate some of the excellent judicial appointments that have been made and rebuild public confidence,” he said.

“The JLSC is the author of its own misfortunes. They certainly did not help their cause by issuing brief, tersely-worded press releases that said precious little and raised more questions than answers. It did not seem to recognize, far less appreciate the public’s right to know what transpired. It initially attempted to defend the matter by the self-serving statement that there was a ‘robust selection process’. That statement is now considered a joke by many,” Ramlogan said.

Ramlogan said the JLSC seemed intent on “withholding critical information” and acting like an “old boys’ club”.

“It is interesting that the learned judges did not identify the criticisms which they considered to be unjustified as there is merit in much of what have been said based on the facts that were slowly and painfully put into the public domain. The JLSC’s cause would be much better served by recognizing that the public is entitled to ask questions and demand answers and make full and frank disclosure. Instead, it seemed intent on withholding critical information and getting information was like pulling teeth out of a lion’s mouth without any anaesthetic,” he said.

“Our democracy and the administration of justice can emerge stronger and better from this experience if meaningful reform takes place. The JLSC needs to shed its image as an ‘old boys’ club,” Ramlogan said.

He maintained that in his opinion the JLSC is not “properly constituted with three members”.

“For it to be properly constituted, there must be five members. Once it is properly constituted then it can in fact meet with a quorum of three,” he added.

Daly: Pressure and accountability come together

Senior Counsel Martin Daly said he was a “bit concerned” that a public official would decide whether criticism was “justified or not”.

“I am a bit concerned that any public official would take it upon himself to decide whether criticism is justified or unjustified,” Daly said.

“I don’t buy this thing about pressure and I think pressure and accountability come together. If you don’t want to be held accountable, don’t take a work,” he said.

Pres House: We have nothing to hide

Theron Boodan, communications adviser to the President, said the resignations letters of Stollmeyer and Hamel-Smith were not “public documents” and therefore did not need to be made public.

“We have to get permission from them to release the contents of their letters of resignation and whatever is in it. We can’t just go and do that (release them),” he said.

Boodan said recent public engagements including the swearing-in of Marlene McDonald as Minister of Public Utilities by Carmona was the cause for the delayed announcement of the JLSC resignations.

He said the excerpts from the letters quoted the President’s release were the essence of what Stollmeyer and Hamel-Smith stated in the resignation letters.

“We have nothing to hide. All this kind of cloak and dagger thing is not there,” Boodan said.

Boodan said the Office of the President has already started the process of finding suitable candidates to fill the vacancies in the JLSC.

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