ROWLEY UNDER FIRE
By Jada Loutoo Friday, November 11 2011
THE JUDICIARY has strongly condemned statements attributed to Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley for his response to the ruling of a High Court judge who quashed the decision to extradite former UNC financiers Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson.
In a strongly worded statement, the Judiciary expressed “its abhorrence of the innuendos by the Leader of the Opposition of collusion between the judge and by extension, the Judiciary, and the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago in the decision which was arrived at and handed down in the court.” Noting it was gravely concerned by the statements, the Judiciary said since there has not been any denial, to date, by Rowley, one can only conclude that the assertions were accurate.
At a media briefing at the Office of the Opposition Leader in Port-of-Spain on Tuesday, Rowley, when asked to comment on Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh’s decision to quash extradition proceedings against the two men, which occurred on the same day Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, announced the lifting of the curfew order imposed during the current state of emergency, said he found “the intervention to be timely.”
Rowley also made reference to Attorney General (AG) Anand Ramlogan, alleging it was Ramlogan who facilitated the whole process.
“The Judiciary respects the right of every citizen to express disagreement with and even criticise the rulings of the courts.
However, the imputations of motive and even wrongdoing on the part of the judge in Dr Rowley’s statements are not only outside of the bounds of respect and objectivity that should attend the exercise of those rights, but also represent an unwarranted and unjustified attack on the judge and are additionally potentially injurious to the administration of Justice in Trinidad and Tobago. This is even more disturbing when such comments emanate from an official who is pledged to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the country,” the Judiciary said.
In its statement, the Judiciary gave the assurance of its “continuing commitment of the institution and its judges to a fiercely independent judicial system in Trinidad and Tobago.
It also said it “will not be sidetracked from this mission by unfortunate statements such as those by the Leader of the Opposition on Monday.”
Rowley has found himself in hot water over his statements on the ruling delivered on Monday by Justice Boodoosingh and angered members of the legal fraternity.
Contacted yesterday, Rowley told Newsday he would not comment until he sees the statement issued by the Judiciary and only then would he respond. The Law Association is expected to meet on the issue, according to its president Dana Seetahal SC. The Judiciary’s statement came after Ramlogan sent letters to Chief Justice Ivor Archie, Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard and Seetahal calling for action to be taken. Ramlogan also said the statements attributed to Rowley gravely concerned him.
In his letter to the Chief Justice, Ramlogan said Rowley’s comments “can only be taken to mean that the court was corrupt.”
He said it was an outrageous suggestion that it was implied that the judge had been “bought or influenced extra judicially.”
“Criticism of a judgment is a fundamental right and I do not seek to curtail it. However, a statement that the court is corrupt hits at the integrity of the Constitution, the proper administration of justice and the honesty of a distinguished judge. It is the more pungent if it comes from the Leader of the Opposition, giving, as it does, an apparently authoritative platform to a scandalous and unsustainable attack,” Ramlogan said.
He added that the separation of powers was “a cornerstone of our rights, freedom and responsibilities under the Constitution.”
“The independence of the Judiciary is the lifeblood of a free society; it should never be compromised or questioned without overwhelming and compelling evidence. A judge is in public service and cannot and should not have to respond himself to the type of accusation made by Dr Rowley. Such accusation brings the court system into disrepute and affects the independence of judicial decisions and the proper execution of court orders. The integrity of the court collapses and proper justice cannot be fairly administered. That is why one of the protections in a free society is the right of a court to maintain its independence and authority through ‘contempt of court’ proceedings.
“The jurisdiction applies not only to individuals but also to the executive; the citizen’s protection from capricious government,” Ramlogan said. He noted that on any definition of contempt, he has been advised that the nature of Rowley’s comments satisfied “the tests of scandal and seeking to both influence and interfere in the judicial process.”
“They stab at the very heart of the Judiciary’s independence, integrity, repute and effectiveness. They are of a type that constitutes criminal contempt, a matter that the Director of Public Prosecutions should immediately examine,” he said.
Ramlogan has asked that Rowley’s comments be withdrawn and that the Opposition Leader apologise to Justice Boodoosingh.
He told the Chief Justice, if the comments are not withdrawn, the courts were entitled and should summon Rowley for contempt to enforce the retraction and apology.
The AG has also said that the Law Association “must make its condemnation clear and the learned Chief Justice make his opprobrium plain.”
He said as Attorney General, he expected and was used to political criticism, but noted that the Opposition Leader went beyond attacking him by alleging a conspiracy between the courts and his office to subvert the courts.
Ramlogan also said Rowley’s comments have also cast aspersions on the integrity of the attorneys appearing for both sides in the extradition case.
“This type of commentary has to be stopped and the legal system must show resolve in dealing with it in the ultimate interest of the people and the Constitution that protects,” he said as he called on the Chief Justice to take “appropriate action.”
In a similarly worded letter to the DPP, Ramlogan urged him to immediately examine the Opposition Leader’s comments.
“Dr Rowley’s comments infringe the very structure of the courts and its judges, seeking to manipulate their independence,” he said, adding “This type of commentary has to be stopped and the legal system must show resolve in dealing with it in the ultimate interest of the people and the Constitution that protects them.” The DPP said he had not yet seen the AG’s letter and would respond after he has read it.
This has not been the first alleged attack on the Judiciary.
In 2006, the Law Association brought a motion of no confidence against former AG John Jeremie for statements he made in an address to the nation as he weighed in on the legal issue concerning former Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma.
In 2007, the then Leader of Government Business, the late Ken Valley, had to apologise in the House of Representatives for his informal cross-talk in which he criticised a judge as being a UNC “politician.”
The publication of Valley’s remarks on Justice Amrika Tiwary-Reddy (whose ruling had criticised Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s blocking of civil servant Feroza Ramjohn’s appointment to the TT High Commission in London) incurred the condemnation of former Chief Justice Sat Sharma and Valley subsequently apologised.