Congress of the People (COP) chairman Joseph Toney yesterday accused National Security Minister Jack Warner of breaching parliamentary privilege by using its protection to attack former party vice-chairman Vernon De Lima.
"For a legislator to stand up in Parliament and, under its protection, attack lawyers for doing their work is a breach of parliamentary privilege and an abuse of that privilege," Toney said yesterday.
Toney was referring to statements by Warner during his contribution on the debate to repeal Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011 on Thursday.
In his contribution, Warner said De Lima's legal practice would suffer if crime were curbed, as he almost exclusively defended drug traffickers, murderers and other assorted criminals.
Toney, in a telephone interview yesterday, lashed back at Warner for his attack on both De Lima and the legal profession as a whole. He described Warner's statements against De Lima as both "shameless and cowardly".
"I think it was quite a shameless and cowardly action under the protection of parliamentary privilege for Mr Jack Warner to attack lawyers in general who have done their task for their clients," Toney said.
"Perhaps I should remind Mr Warner that when a lawyer undertakes a brief for a client, he has to do so fearlessly and without fear or favour. "If he does not pursue his brief in that manner, he can be subject to disciplinary action by the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago," Toney said, and called for the Law Association to make a statement on Warner's attack on the legal profession.
"If Mr Warner felt strongly about Mr De Lima, why then did he invite him recently to be part of his campaign with respect to the death penalty?" Toney asked.
"Both De Lima and (COP leader) Prakash Ramadhar are two of the finest criminal lawyers in Trinidad and Tobago. That is their job. What does Mr Warner expect them to do to earn a living. Go and stage a football tournament with FIFA?" he asked.
Last week, De Lima moved an internal COP motion to have Warner removed from his ministerial post, and threatened the party would leave the coalition government if his demand was not met. De Lima also threatened to resign as vice-chairman of the COP if his motion failed. The motion failed by a 91-6 vote on Sunday and De Lima resigned the day after, but remained an ordinary member of the COP.