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Sunday 25 August 2019
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PM gives his reasons for CJ decision

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley  PHOTO BY SUREASH CHOLAI
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley PHOTO BY SUREASH CHOLAI

THE Prime Minister has given his reasons for choosing not to invoke impeachment proceedings to have a president-appointed tribunal established to consider allegations against Chief Justice Ivor Archie.

Yesterday, Dr Rowley wrote to Law Association president Douglas Mendes, SC, giving his reasons for choosing not to go forward with a Section 137 complaint to President Paula-Mae Weekes. The PM also cleared up claims he was contacted by Archie to help get housing for several people.

At a post-Cabinet briefing last Thursday, Rowley said 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 his legal advice also indicated that he should not take the association’s advice.
Since then there have been calls from the legal fraternity for him to provide the advice. Mendes had said he intended to write Rowley asking for it. Yesterday, Rowley disclosed that the advice he received came from Howard Stevens, QC, who was also involved when former CJ Satnarine Sharma was impeached.

Rowley said he considered the opinions of the association’s counsel – Dr Francis Alexis, QC, and Eamon Courtenay, QC – and told Mendes, “Having done so, I have decided not to make a representation to Her Excellency the President.”

In his letter, Rowley addressed each of the complaints against Archie: judicial security arrangements; alleged WhatApp communication with the CJ’s alleged friend Dillian Johnson on judges' security; the issue of a police escort for Justice Frank Seepersad; and the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) complaints.

Of the alleged exchange between Archie and Johnson, Rowley pointed out that even if the latter could be interviewed, the reliability of his evidence would be doubtful because of his conviction for forging the signature of a judicial officer.
“There must, therefore, be very considerable doubt as to whether the complaint relating to the disputed WhatsApp exchange (based as it is on an apparently disputed document provided by an unidentified source and being otherwise uncorroborated) between the Chief Justice and Johnson could be substantiated. I consider that I am entitled to, and should, take both the paucity and poor quality of the evidence in this regard into account in considering this complaint.

“Furthermore, whilst if proved, the disputed WhatsApp communication would evidence both that some discussion had taken place between the Chief Justice and Johnson and the Chief Justice and some judges, I also very much doubt whether, without more (and there is no other evidence), it would in any event be considered serious enough to require removal from office,” the PM said, adding that the alleged communication did not provide sufficient basis for concluding that the CJ’s removal ought to be investigated.

On the police escort for Seepersad, the Prime Minister said there appeared to be some conflict, since the judge claimed he never received a Special Branch draft risk assessment which said a police escort was not recommended for him, and was not consulted when the escort was discontinued.

“I am of the view that it is very difficult to see how this complaint could be found to amount to such serious misbehaviour as to require removal from office, and I have decided that it does not require investigation,” Rowley said.

KERN ROMERO ISSUE

On the HDC complaints, in particular that involving another convicted fraudster, Kern Romero, who used Archie’s name to fleece several people with the promise of getting them state housing,
Rowley said, “Despite suggestions that Romero used his relationship with the Chief Justice in connection with his fraudulent scheme, there is no suggestion that the Chief Justice permitted Romero to convey to any of his victims the impression that he (Romero) was in a special position to influence the Chief Justice.

Nor is there any evidence that the Chief Justice was aware of Romero’s fraudulent activities when any recommendations for housing were made.”
He also emphasised that the lack of evidence that Archie was aware of the “criminal proclivities” of either Romero or Johnson “rules out any allegation that he associated, or developed close personal relationships, with persons engaged in criminal activities.”
Rowley pointed out that “if the Chief Justice was unaware of their criminal proclivities,” there would be no basis for concern that, in forming close personal relationships with them, he had shown a lack of judgment.
He also addressed a separate complaint involving Archie allegedly recommending a number of people to HDC because Romero asked him to.
Rowley said the evidential basis for the complaint was “problematic.”

HDC HOUSING

The Prime Minister also addressed the complaints that Archie recommended housing for several people, which also included a claim that the CJ contacted Rowley recommending three people and seeking his assistance.
“I can confirm that there I have not received from the Chief Justice nor have I sent any WhatsApp messages to him regarding HDC housing, nor indeed have I had any communication with the Chief Justice regarding HDC housing. Further I have no records from or to the Chief Justice regarding HDC housing.
“Clearly I cannot ignore this fact, which effectively disposes of this complaint,” he said.
And on the complaint of Archie contacting a senior HDC manager to fast-track housing recommendations, Rowley said even if there was contact between Archie and the HDC – which the CJ accepted there was – it did not necessarily follow that it was inappropriate.
Rowley said HDC’s policy provided for 25 per cent of available housing to be allocated on the recommendation of the minister in special cases/emergencies.

“It would not necessarily be inappropriate, when recommending an applicant believed to be deserving of special or urgent consideration, to go further than merely putting forward the person’s name. Any communications there may have been by the Chief Justice might be justified on this basis, bearing in mind that in his press release he referred specifically to forwarding the names of ‘needy and deserving persons,’” the PM said.

“Be that as it may, even if the Chief Justice went further than he ought to have done in relation to any applicant, it is unlikely that it could justify removal from office, at any rate if he did not do so merely at the behest of Romero. He might in such circumstances be criticised for a lack of judgment; but not for such serious misbehaviour as to require removal. I therefore consider that the third HDC complaint stands or falls with the first and second HDC complaints.”
In his conclusions on the HDC complaints, Dr Rowley told Mendes he did not consider there was, prima facie, sufficient basis in fact that the CJ acted at the behest of Romero to send the complaint to the President, nor was it any different with any of the other complaints because of a lack of evidence, non-specific hearsay and the paucity and weakness of evidence as well as considerable doubt.
He also suggested some of the alleged Whats App communication could be a fabrication and raised the distinct possibility of someone wanting to falsely implicate Archie.
“The conclusion I have reached in all the circumstances therefore is that the HDC complaints have an insufficient basis in fact to warrant a representation to the President that the Chief Justice’s removal ought to be investigated.
“Having considered the various complaints, I have therefore determined that a representation to the President is not warranted,” Rowley told Mendes.

STEVENS' ADVICE

In his 20-page advice to the Prime Minister, Stevens went through the complaints and gave his opinions and conclusions. Much of this formed the basis of the PM’s letter to Mendes.
He said he came to the conclusion, after accessing the complaints and the evidence presented by the association, that there was” insufficient basis in fact to warrant a representation by the Prime Minister to the President that the Chief Justice’s removal ought to be investigated.
“Or put another way,there is not in my view a reasonable possibility (as distinct from a bare or remote possibility) that the complaints could lead to removal of the Chief Justice,” he said of the HDC complaints in particular.

He did say if there was WhatsApp communication between Archie and the Prime Minister, his advice would differ and he would want to consider matters further.
“I should add two things for completeness. First, if the Prime Minister decides not to make a representation to the President, I would be pleased to discuss with those instructing me what should be said to the Law Association, Chief Justice and/or others in that regard.
“Secondly, if, on the other hand, despite the conclusions I have reached, the Prime Minister were to be of the view that he should make a representation to the President, the Chief Justice should in my view (notwithstanding the Committee’s investigation) first be given an opportunity to respond to the complaints and material considered by the Prime Minister,” Stevens said.

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