Fired Justice Minister: ‘I did not lie to Cabinet’
By Miranda La Rose Saturday, September 22 2012
click on pic to zoom in
My side of the story: St Joseph MP Herbert Volney gives his side of the story on his firing as Justice Minister at his sub-constituency office on Aran...
St Joseph MP Herbert Volney had offered his resignation as Justice Minister to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar some two and a half hours before he learnt on the 7 pm television news on Thursday night that he was fired.
“The truth be told I did offer the Prime Minister the return of my Cabinet portfolio in keeping with true parliamentary democracy of the Westminster type, and she told me that she would consider it,” Volney told Newsday yesterday in his St Joseph Constituency Sub-Office, Aranguez.
“About 4.45 pm,” he said, “I offered her my resignation before she fired me by television. I saw it on television like the rest of the nation. I was very disappointed in being treated this way.”
The Prime Minister informed the nation she had dismissed Volney as Justice Minister for misleading the Cabinet on the understandings of Chief Justice (CJ) Ivor Archie and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard on moves to proclaim Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011 on August 31.
The CJ and DPP have said they knew nothing of a partial proclamation, and believed the Act would have become effective next January. Persad-Bissessar accused Volney of “serious misrepresentation” of the views of the CJ and DPP and of providing erroneous advice to the Cabinet when submitted a note on Section 34.
She has appointed Tobago attorney Christlyn Moore as Justice Minister.
Volney yesterday said he did not expect to be sacked and never lied to the Cabinet. “In the presence of a senior minister, I offered the Prime Minister the return of my ministerial portfolio,” he said. “The correct thing for her was to have accepted it because I am a member of her party. I had done no wrong as far as I was concerned. I had lied to no one, I did not deceive my parliamentary colleagues and that is the impression that is being given.”
He does not lie, he said, “because, a lie cost me my first marriage. Since that time I have tried not to lie. What is in it for me to gain? Why would I lie to Cabinet colleagues? It hurts.”
He continued, “I do not accept and I resent it to the core of my heart for anyone to accuse me for lying to the Cabinet.”
He made “an error of governance,” he said, “I did not know that I had to go back to the DPP and Chief Justice (after a July 24 meeting). I thought that after I had their earlier consent to the January 2 date for rolling out the main provisions of the Act - which was the repeal of the preliminary inquiry procedure, and its replacement by the sufficiency hearing procedure, that it was left to me to do the administrative work by having some sections proclaimed so that we would know with certainty when the new scheme would be coming in, so as to and allow for the positions to be created and the masters, appointed.”
All of this, he said, “was in the Cabinet note for everybody to read. It was there. I brought the note. The note was approved when I was present (on August 9).”
Shortly after, he said, he traveled overseas. “The Acting Minister of Justice, the Honourable Prakash Ramadhar was acting for me. He confirmed the minute (on August 16),” he said. “If he had read the minute, if he had any difficulty with the Section 34 - and I know that he had difficulty with the number during the debate in the House (last November)- he could have put a stop to it right there.” Prior to being fired, Persad-Bissessar had held a meeting with ministers, Government MPs and Senators. Volney said he was asked to recuse himself as the matter was being discussed. “In other words the accusations against me were made in my absence. I had no time to defend myself.” However, he said that in fairness to the Prime Minister, she did question him about the two areas of concern before the meeting.
On Persad-Bissessar’s accusation of “serious misrepresentation to the Cabinet” in relation to the note in which he requested, on August 9, the early proclamation of Section 34, Volney said, “Even though I am new to Government, how could I misrepresent 29 intelligent men and women? The note is quite clear. It was published in the newspapers. Are my former Cabinet colleagues so short in understanding a two-page note that they couldn’t have seen Section 34 to be proclaimed by a certain date? That argument just does not hold. Misrepresent? I am deeply hurt by that statement.”
Noting that he had given Parliament an undertaking that before the new procedure could replace the old preliminary procedure, he had to proclaim certain sections, including Section 34, to take effect from August 31 to allow “the dots to be lined up” in time for the January 2 start up. “Up to that point in time,” he said, “nobody was serious about the January 2 deadline. We had to have certainty.”
He had to take a position of leadership to set a date, he said. “The only way to do that was to proclaim the Act so that it would have life. Given that Parliament had resumed, that was the reason for the proclamation.”
Although Parliament has enacted some legislation, he said, “nobody is serious about implementing the new measure although Parliament passed it.”
The Attorney General had been asked, he said, “to bring a note to Cabinet and to bring the necessary legislation to increase the number of masters from three to 11 at the request of the Chief Justice. To date that has not been done, although I had asked for it over and over.”
So when he played hardball and sought to have the section proclaimed early with the intention that everyone would work towards a deadline, he said, “I get slaughter at the altar of political expediency.”
As far as he was concerned, he said, “My hands are clean. My conscience is clear. I have a God above. I know what is sin. There are many who don’t.”
On the change in one or two of the key words in terms of the date of conviction and the date of the trial, and the perception that it was done to facilitate and to proclaim Section 34 to favour UNC financiers Ish Garbaransigh and Steve Ferguson, Volney said, “Absolutely not. That is PNM propaganda.”
Persad-Bissessar, he said, did not have a problem accepting his explanation. “What she did not accept,” he said, “was why the Act was proclaimed early and why there was no consultation with the Chief Justice. That is where I made the error of governance. I didn’t think it was necessary to go back to the Chief Justice.”
Later on, he said, “I was told that I erred. In hindsight, I’m not sure that I erred. That was the reason why I was dismissed.”
When he was told he had erred and the Prime Minister had not accepted his explanation, he then offered her his resignation. “She could have accepted it, and I would have been able to walk with my pride and dignity intact. I had taken responsibility for it.” he said “To fire me, was to fire me unjustly. That is ‘Ouch!’”
Asked why Section 34 was proclaimed early, he said, “People don’t seem to appreciate, as I do, the presumption of innocence... That was what Section 34 was all about.”
He said, “You cannot jail people and have them with loss of liberty for up to ten years without a trial when you presume them to be innocent as of right.”
He recalled the Canadian Askov Case of 1990 in which the Supreme Court freed 50,000 people of criminal charges for two years of delay in trial to clear off the backlog.
When that Section 34 was removed from the legislative package, he said, “I had felt my soul come out of me because that had been such a significant piece of law. Everybody knew it was to address, for the first time in our country, the backlog and the imbalance created by the backlog between the right of the State to prosecute and the right of the the citizen of this country to a fair trial, a trial that is held within a reasonable period.”
Of his new life, he said, “Thank you Jesus. God is in charge, not Kamla. God wants me to re- calibrate. He wants a change in my life. Next year I will be 60. Obviously God does not want this for me.”
After his firing, Volney said that Minister of National Security Jack Warner visited him. “Mr Warner and I are good friends. He is the chairman of the UNC. He came to give me whatever support a friend could give. We go back to sometime.”
Asked about his feelings 16 years in the Judiciary and two and a half years in politics, Volney said, “I have no regrets. My working relationship with the Government and the Prime Minister in particular has been beautiful.”
Many things that were being done in the ministry, he said, were long overdue such a parole legislation bill, the roll out of the Electronic Monitoring Act, the formulation of new prison rules, provisions for the rehabilitation of prisoners. “They are almost ready to hit the floor of Parliament. I wouldn’t be there to pilot them.”
He created the ministry, and according to him, he achieved a lot in his two and a half years. “I’m truly blessed with the experience. I’m eternally grateful to the Prime Minister for giving me the chance. I have to respect that he who gives, can take back.”
Now looking forward to giving more time to his constituents, he said he will serve out his five years. In the past, he was only able to meet with them twice weekly, now he will do so everyday.