Justice Minister Herbert Volney was tonight fired by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar for his role in engineering Cabinet’s approval for, and the President’s proclamation of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) 2011 Act.
Attorney Christlyn Moore, a lawyer in the Office of the Attorney General, has been appointed to replace Volney, who is the United National Congress (UNC) Member of Parliament for St Joseph.
Persad-Bissessar’s announcement was made in an address to the nation from the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, Port of Spain, and followed a meeting of the Cabinet and National Security Council.
With her Ministers seated in the audience, and flanked by the leaders of People’s Partnership coalition members, Persad said Volney, a former High Court judge, had admitted making a “mistake”, when he convinced Cabinet colleagues in August that Chief Justice Ivor Archie and the Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard were aware of his plan to seek proclamation of Section 34.
Persad-Bissessar said that during her investigation, she learnt that neither Archie nor Gaspard had consented to the proclamation, which has allowed more than 20 criminal defendants, including UNC financiers Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson to petition the High Court to be freed based on Section 34, which allows a judge to dismiss a case against a person and find the person not guilty if ten years or more has elapsed since the commission of the offence and the trial had not begun.
The secretive proclamation and its use by criminal defendants before Parliament met in emergency session to repeal the Act, caused a national and international furore, protests, marches, and calls for the resignation of Volney, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and National Security Minister Jack Warner.
Persad-Bissessar apologised to Gaspard and Archie on behalf of the Government, and called Volney’s actions a “serious misrepresentation”.
She also tonight responded to the damning criticism of Government’s handling of the issue, saying that those protesting were entitled to do so, and it showed patriotism, and that the country’s democracy was strong.
In an immediately reaction to the Prime Minister’s decision, Public Relations Officer of the Opposition People’s National Movement Faris Al Rawi said Persad-Bissessar had failed to address the Attorney General’s responsibility in the matter. Al Rawi said Persad-Bissessar had also failed to deal with the genesis of the proclamation, and that her statement lacked consistency and particulars. Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley will respond at a meeting at 9 a.m tomorrow.
In a 26 minutes address, Persad-Bissessar detailed the passage of the Act, and emphasised that it was passed with the full support of the PNM and Independents.
She said Section 34 could never have been proclaimed if the Parliament had not consented to its inclusion in the Act.
She said for there to have been a conspiracy, all members of Parliament would have had to be involved.
Persad-Bissessar also disclosed that she had asked Volney during the Cabinet meeting dealing with Section 34, whether he had consulted with the CJ and DPP. She said Volney said he had the support of both men.
She said it was based on this that Cabinet approved the decision to seek early proclamation, something, she said, that should never have happened.
Persad-Bissessar said the country’s reaction to the Section 34 issue was proof that the old style of governing was changing with citizens demanding a new level of accountability, and that the historic tolerance for wrong doing was over.
Volney's termination is the eighth to be ordered by Persad-Bissessar since the People’s Partnership assumed power in May 2010.
She also revoked the ministerial appointments of Minister in the National Security Minister Collin Partap, Minister of Planning, Restructuring and Gender Affairs Mary King, Health Minister Therese Baptiste-Cornelis, Public Administration Minister Rudrawatee Nan Gosine-Ramgoolam, Minister in the National Security Ministry Subhas Panday, National Security Minister John Sandy, and Gender Affairs Minister Verna St Rose-Greaves.