Sir Ellis Clarke: Advice a matter of law

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

It is a matter of law, not of politics.

That was the response of former President Sir Ellis Clarke to questions on his advice given on the merits of the representations submitted to the Attorney General on June 21, by three senior attorneys on behalf of United National Congress financiers Steve Ferguson and Ishwar Galbaransingh.

The two men, who have been denied bail, are wanted by United States authorities to face criminal charges arising out of the construction of the Piarco Airport terminal but they are challenging their extradition on the basis that Section 16 of Extradition Act was unconstitutional.

"My opinion has nothing to do with the personalities. It would have been the same had it been Bim and Bam, Gypsy and Tipsy," Sir Ellis said yesterday in a telephone interview.

Sir Ellis said he was asked by Fyard Hosein SC on June 24 to express on opinion on the submissions made by Hosein and British QCs Edward Fitzgerald and Geoffrey Robertson on the Ferguson/Galbaransingh matter.

He said his major point in determining whether or not Ferguson and Galbaransingh should be extradited was the fact that the Trinidad and Tobago authorities sought from the United States authorities to get co-accused Eduardo Hillman-Walker extradited on the ground that the proper place for trial was here.

"It is difficult to see why the proper place for trial for the others (Ferguson and Galbaransingh) is somewhere else (the US)," he said. He also commented on the constitutional point in which the validity of the Extradition Act which enabled what would not be evidence in Trinidad and Tobago to be used as evidence here.

"I am not suggesting that they should get off or not be tried. They have to be tried and if necessary, convicted. The question is only 'where'. And to say that we don't have justice in Trinidad would be a serious accusation," Sir Ellis said.

He stressed yesterday that his advice was not given for free, as reported in the Guardian. Sir Ellis said he told Hosein that he was not charging a fee, but he may help a charity.

"Instead of paying me a fee, (I said 'you may) make a donation to a charity'" he said, adding: "Fyard Hosein, a private citizen, on behalf of his clients can make a gift to a charity".

Sir Ellis said because he could not employ the same policy in dealing with the State and he has done work free from the State.

He cited the "pro bono" advice given to the Attorney General Anand Ramlogan on the issue of whether Jack Warner could hold the position of FIFA Vice-President and Works Minister. Before that, he did three years of free work on the Police Reform legislation "and I never drew a penny for all the work I did on the (Draft) Constitution".

Told that it appeared that he was criticising the former Attorney General, John Jeremie, Sir Ellis said when he talked about the "prosecuting authorities lacking objectivity" in their quest to have Ferguson and Galbaransingh extradited, he was being "critical of the authorities seeking the prosecution in the way that they went about it...That is mainly the Americans. They were seeking the extradition," he said.

Similarly when he said in the opinion "it is difficult to see how an Attorney General, applying the law to the facts...could find Trinidad and Tobago the proper forum", he was speaking about "any Attorney General" who is now deliberating on the matter of whether the two men should be extradited or not. It was not a comment on the action of the previous Attorney General, Sir Ellis said.

"There is nothing political about this. People want to make it political. I don't comment on anything political. I am dealing with a matter in law. It is (only) political in the sense that the Attorney General has to decide," he said.

Told that his opinion would probably sway the current Attorney General because of his (Sir Ellis') standing in the legal community, he responded: "Surely it (the opinion) is either right or wrong. If it is right, why shouldn't it say so?....This does not favour any particularly political party, these are individuals".

Told that the individuals were linked to a political party, Sir Ellis said in this matter they were acting very much as individuals.

He opined that in one sense there should not be a trial here because the feelings in this country were so strong on this issue.

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