SHOCK and disappointment are the immediate reactions of the legal fraternity and judges, to the Prime Minister’s assertion that he will not move on calls to impeach Chief Justice Ivor Archie, based on legal advice he has received.
Among those shocked by the PM’s revelation on Thursday were several senior attorneys, who have decided to remain silent until the Law Association meets on the issue on Tuesday.
However, outspoken Senior Counsel Israel Khan says the Prime Minister should now say who gave him the advice. Khan had repeatedly called on Dr Rowley to make a decision “one way or the other” on the association’s request to have a president-appointed tribunal established to look into the CJ’s conduct in office.
Khan also said now that the PM has given his decision, it is open to judicial review, and he hopes this is the position that the Law Association adopts.
Other judicial sources, who asked for anonymity, said for there to be an independent Judiciary, and to regain the public’s confidence that there are no judges who are beholden to anyone except their oaths, Section 137 of the Constitution, which sets out the procedure to impeach a Chief Justice, should have been engaged.
“No constitutional obligation should be discharged arbitrarily, and any informed observer seized of the relevant information would be hard-pressed to conclude that Section 137 should not be engaged,” one commentator said.
For his part, Khan said he was not surprised by the position Rowley took, "since he has, week ago, telegraphed to the population that there was a group of people...harbouring a sinister plot to get rid of the Chief Justice because these people believe that the Judiciary is available for their use and purpose,” Khan told Newsday.
Rowley, in a television interview on the CNC3 Morning Brew programme, said the persistent call for the Executive to get involved in the Judiciary was being made by people with their own agenda.
“I am aware of what is happening and on invitation I take careful note of the conspiracies. One of these days, I’m going to tell the people what their agenda is, who is involved, what they are doing and the danger they are posing,” he said during the interview in April.
Yesterday, Khan not only called on the PM to “name these people,” but also to say who gave him the advice not to invoke Section 137.
“What is the substance of this advice?” Khan asked, as he also pointed out that the allegations surrounding the CJ’s conduct were considered so serious that a group of six Appeal Court judges visited the President over the Carnival period to voice their discontent.
Khan said all the Law Association wanted was for the allegations to be investigated to ascertain if they were true or false.
In December, the association’s membership voted in favour of referring the allegations against Archie to the Prime Minister for further action. In its letter to Rowley, the association pointed out that it made no finding of misbehaviour against the CJ, but only that there was sufficient evidence to support a referral under Section 137 for him to determine whether a representation to the President was warranted.
On Thursday, Rowley said weeks ago, he received legal advice that he “should not acquiesce to the Law Association’s request.”
He also said he did not take advice from the association and the legal advice he received also indicated that he should not take the association’s advice. Rowley also said he did not rely on advice from the Office of the Attorney General.
However, in calling on the PM to release the advice he received, Khan said Rowley cannot hide behind a legal opinion.
“He is accountable to the people of TT,” he said, also warning of a potential standstill in the courts by attorneys, and even judges, because of the prime minister’s refusal to send the matter to the President.
Also speaking anonymously, judicial sources said the Judiciary was now at its “lowest point ever” and the decision of the PM would simply “embolden and empower ineffective and inefficient leadership” in the institution and “perpetuate the perception that this is a lawless land where no one is held to account.”
The association’s investigations surrounded allegations in media reports that Archie tried to persuade judges to change their state-provided security in favour of a private company where his friend Dillian Johnson worked.
Archie was also accused of trying to fast-track Housing Development Corporation (HDC) applications for various people. He has denied discussing judges’ security, but admitted to recommending people for HDC housing. He said he did not “engage in any ‘lobbying’ of any person” to the HDC.