Saturday, February 24, 2018

A matter of shame


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It's taken St Kitts-born jurist Sir Dennis Byron to cry shame on members of the Trinidad and Tobago legal profession over their lack of even public discussion on this country's anomalous position on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

It was this country under the administration of Basdeo Panday, which had campaigned for and won the signal recognition as home base of the CCJ. In a notorious act of bad faith, once out of office, the United National Congress (UNC) then withheld agreement from making the CCJ this country's final court of appeal.

Now back in office under the leadership of Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the UNC, lead member of the People's Partnership administration, has been giving mixed signals on the CCJ.

The People's Partnership has committed to a phased approach to acceding to the CCJ, starting with the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council of criminal matters. In making the announcement in April, the Prime Minister gave no indication of the time-frame for abolishing civil appeals.

Speaking in Port of Spain this week, Sir Dennis, president of the CCJ, noted the silence on this question by "the voice of the legal profession here". He referred specifically to the Law Association and the Criminal Bar Association, neither of which has been identified with any public position on accession to the CCJ.

It was a reminder from this leading Caribbean jurist that T&T lawyers, consumed by their own cases and briefs, do not concern themselves with such larger matters as the championing of accession to the CCJ.

The biggest debates engaging lawyers have been relatively narrow matters such as the conferment of "silk" and the acceptance of State briefs by officers of the Law Association. Taking position on the CCJ cannot be left to the politicians alone, said Sir Dennis, noting that the politicians had done their part.

In this country, however, it appears that only the Chief Justice annually reflects on the state of the justice sector of public affairs, and on the need for financial and other resources. Sir Dennis didn't say so, but the question left hanging in the air by his comments was whether our lawyers may be too focused on personal material interests to care about such issues as jurisprudential sovereignty and whether they have the professional confidence to rock any boat.

Coming from Sir Dennis, the comment about the legal fraternity's silence on one of the central judicial issues of the post-Independence period should make the legal fraternity cringe.

This is yet another issue on which the society badly needs leadership.

This issue has been allowed to fall on the back burner with the result that it has had only announcement value to date.

Given the booming industry in legal briefs at this time, surely the legal fraternity can afford to allocate some of its very expensive time to looking after the public interest and the nation's future.