Ex-AG John Jeremie withdraws as Court of Appeal judge

Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, left, greets former attorney general John Jeremie, SC, centre, and Israel Khan, SC, during a joint sitting at the Hall of Justice on April 12 to pay tribute to late former chief justice Michael de la Bastide.  - Photo by Angelo Marcelle
Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, left, greets former attorney general John Jeremie, SC, centre, and Israel Khan, SC, during a joint sitting at the Hall of Justice on April 12 to pay tribute to late former chief justice Michael de la Bastide. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle

FORMER People's National Movement (PNM) attorney general John Jeremie who was a hair's breath away from being be appointed a judge of the Court of Appeal by the the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) has withdrawn from the process.

On May 12, Newsday reported that Jeremie was one of two people who were shortlisted to be appointed by the JLSC – comprising chairman Chief Justice Ivor Archie, chairman of the Public Service Commission Winston Rudder, attorney Elton Prescott, SC, Justice of Appeal Charmaine Pemberton and Dr Albert Persaud.

Investigators from the Special Branch were appointed to vet the incoming judge, the final step in the process before being appointed.

Newsday has learned Justice Eleanor Joye Donaldson-Honeywell, a former solicitor general and daughter of former PNM vice chairman John Donaldson, has been moved up the merit list and will likely join Justice Geoffrey Henderson as the two new judges of the Court of Appeal. Donaldson-Honeywell was appointed a judge in 2015 after quitting her job as solicitor general, the head of the State's civil law department.

Henderson, a former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), served for eight years as a judge of the International Criminal Court, at the Hague, in the Netherlands, but maintained his seniority in the Judiciary while working abroad.

The appointments were scheduled to be made by the end of May but after the publication of the story, the chorus of objections grew stronger with several judges approaching Archie directly to voice their concerns.

Contacted via WhatsApp, Jeremie did not respond to a query as to whether he had withdrawn from the process to be appointed a judge of the appeal court nor the reason.

Newsday confirmed that at least four senior appeal court judges threatened to resign if Jeremie had been appointed and others provided evidence to the Chief Justice to hammer out their case.

Jeremie served as attorney general under the Patrick Manning administrations between 2003-2007 and again during 2009-2010. He is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the UWI St Augustine campus.

Prime Minister Dr Rowley, who returned from an overseas trip to Ghana and India on May 19, was appraised of the developments by Special Branch.

There was no response to questions sent to the Prime Minister and Chief Justice on the issue.

In July 2009, Rowley said in a newspaper interview, Jeremie's decision to offer his resignation to then PM Manning was the decent thing to do after the Law Association had passed a vote of no confidence against the titular head of the bar over allegations of interfering in criminal cases.

"I don't think the Prime Minister has any other choice but to accept the resignation. For the prime minister to do otherwise is to indicate that the prime minister is prepared to operate at a lower standard than Mr Jeremie and that is troublesome."

Chief Justice Ivor Archie. - File photo

"When Mr Jeremie was brought back into the Cabinet, I made a public statement that Mr Jeremie was unfit to hold the office of Attorney General, based on my knowledge of his conduct in that office, and to the extent that he has seen that too and has now offered his resignation, I can simply say that he has done the decent thing."

Rowley said then he would have more respect for Jeremie if he resigned on those grounds, adding: "I don't know what grounds he resigned on, but if he has tendered his resignation that means he has seen it fit to make that offer and that's a very serious matter. An attorney general's offer of resignation is not a light matter and the prime minister now has to do the proper thing if this country has to go forward."

The PM had also criticised Jeremie in 2006 for comments made in relation to an Integrity Commission investigation into the Landate housing development which had been sent to the Office of the DPP without Rowley being given an opportunity to respond. That matter ended with the resignation of the members of the Integrity Commission and a court ruling in favour of Rowley on the basis of a breach of his constitutional rights.

A total of 12 people had applied including High Court judges Devindra Rampersad, Ricky Rahim, Frank Seepersad, Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds, Nadia Kangaloo, Avason Quinlan-Williams, Robin Mohammed, Allyson Ramkerrysingh, Donaldson-Honeywell and former temporary judge and member of the Police Service Commission Rajiv Persad, SC.

The move by the JLSC to fill vacancies in the Court of Appeal, which now comprise Archie and 11 other judges, comes after three appeal court judges opted for early retirement, two others have applied to serve on Caribbean courts and two others are scheduled to retire next year.

Several judges and senior members of the legal fraternity had raised concerns over Jeremie's impending appointment because of his public battles with then DPP Henderson over the criminal prosecution of former chief justice Satnarine Sharma, former prime minister Basdeo Panday, prominent vascular surgeon Prof Vijay Naraynsingh and former executive chairman of the CL Financial Group Lawrence Duprey.

The criminal cases of Panday, Sharma, and a group of businesspeople charged with a plethora of offences arising out of the Piarco Airport Development Project collapsed after the Privy Council, the country's highest appellate court, found that the then chief magistrate Sherman McNicolls had been compromised by Jeremie's assistance to recover $400,000 from a land deal involving a subsidiary of the CL Financial Group.

The Criminal Bar Association also moved a motion of no confidence against Jeremie in 2009 and demanded a criminal investigation into allegations of attempting to pervert the course of justice or whether the then attorney general had misbehaved in public office arising out of his involvement in the McNicolls land transaction. Jeremie had offered his resignation after the vote of no confidence but it was not accepted by PM Manning.

Former chief magistrate Sherman McNicolls -

Two years earlier, a commission of enquiry (CoE) chaired by Lord Mustill called on Jeremie to clear up allegations that he was a co-conspirator in an elaborate scheme to get a CL Financial subsidiary, Home Construction Ltd, to reimburse McNicolls, who presided over Panday's trial, which had the effect of tainting the fairness of the trial of the former prime minister who was accused of failing to declare a London bank account to the Integrity Commission.

Mustill had found the imputations coming out of the testimony of McNicolls, accusing Jeremie of colluding with the then PNM treasurer Andre Monteil, a former CL Financial executive, had the effect of influencing Panday's trial. Jeremie was called before the CoE but did not respond to those claims.

The then opposition whip Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj had on July 27, 2008, called for Jeremie to be investigated by DPP Henderson, who declined saying there was no evidence of any unlawful conduct. In a letter Maharaj said: “The allegations of wrongdoing made against the former AG John Jeremie cannot in the interest of public justice be left without a full and impartial inquiry.”


"Ex-AG John Jeremie withdraws as Court of Appeal judge"

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