SPEAKER ACCEPTS CENSURE MOTION ON AG
By ANDRE BAGOO Friday, October 5 2012
SPEAKER of the House Wade Mark has accepted an unprecedented motion of censure calling to remove Attorney General (AG) Anand Ramlogan on the basis of “improper” discharge of his ministerial duties, stemming from the AG’s handling of extradition matters involving UNC patron Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson as well as the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act’s repealed Section 34.
The motion in the House of Representatives, filed by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, alleges Ramlogan committed a “flagrant breach of Parliamentary trust” in relation to assurances given in Parliament by his former Cabinet colleague, sacked Minister of Justice Herbert Volney, in November 2011 during debate of the legislation.
Volney assured MPs in November 2011 that the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act, whose controversial Section 34 allowed entry of not guilty verdicts for persons charged on crimes committed more than ten years ago, would not be proclaimed until the necessary measures were put in place — years away.
The motion of censure, obtained by Newsday, calls on Parliament to vote to, “express its strongest disapproval of the flagrant breach of Parliamentary trust by the Attorney General’s involvement in the premature proclamation of Section 34.” It also alludes to Ramlogan’s handling of the extradition matter. The motion asks the House of Representatives, in which Senator Ramlogan does not sit, to call on Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the Siparia MP, to fire Ramlogan.
A notice of the motion, which was accepted by the Speaker this week, was circulated among MPs on Tuesday. A note on the notice reads: “The undermentioned motion which has been accepted by the Speaker is hereby forwarded for the general information of all Members.”
The motion was filed on September 28 and will technically qualify for debate next Friday but is up for debate by the end of the month.
Newsday understands the motion is expected to be debated on Private Members Day — the day set aside for Opposition and non-Government business which is due on October 26.
However, this date is subject to approval of Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal and to the completion of the Budget debate.
According to May’s Parliamentary Practice, by convention censure motions are given priority by the Government and, thus, the motion is likely to be dealt with as soon as practicable. In accordance with the Standing Orders, Private Members’ business shall have precedence on the fourth Friday of every month, meaning a debate could happen on October 26. The motion is the first matter of business for the next Private Members Day.
The tabling of a censure motion poses a dilemma for the Government benches in Parliament, since Volney, the St Joseph MP has signalled his intention to ignore the Whip, exposing the PP administration to possible attack from within its Parliamentary line.
The preamble to the motion sets out the grounds on which MPs will call for Ramlogan to be sacked.
The preamble reads, “Whereas Section 76(2) of the Constitution specifies ‘that the Attorney General shall...be responsible for the administration of legal affairs in Trinidad and Tobago and legal proceedings for and against the State’;
“And whereas the Attorney General participated in the presentation to Parliament of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Bill 2011 which contained a clause that created an amnesty for certain legal proceedings [referred to as Section 34];
“And whereas the Attorney General had knowledge of and supported the Government’s solemn undertaking to Parliament that no part of the Bill would be brought into force until such time as all supporting rules, administrative and physical infrastructure were in place and stakeholders consulted.”
The motion continues, “And whereas in the absence of the discharge of the said undertakings, the Attorney General had knowledge of and/or involvement in the unexpected proclamation of Section 34, thereby prematurely bringing into force an amnesty with consequences for certain legal proceedings involving certain persons.”
Alluding to the handling of the extradition matters, it continues, “And whereas earlier, the Attorney General made certain decisions in an extradition matter involving those said certain persons;
“And whereas as a consequence of this series of developments there are widespread unease, anger, disappointment and a general sense of loss of confidence in the Attorney General among a large cross-section of the national population;
“And whereas the Attorney General has accepted no responsibility for the improper discharge of his constitutional duties:
“Be it resolved that this Honourable House express its strongest disapproval of the flagrant breach of Parliamentary trust by the Attorney General’s involvement in the premature proclamation of Section 34;
“And be it further resolved that this Honourable House express its loss of confidence in the Attorney General and call on the Prime Minister to immediately relieve him of the portfolio of Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Parliamentary sources have said this motion is unprecedented. Opposition sources yesterday ruled out the bringing of a similar motion against Volney. When questioned on this, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said the focus of the Opposition is unlikely to be on Volney since he is an “ex-minister.” There are no plans, as yet, for such a motion against Volney, he said.
The question of the Attorney General’s involvement in the Section 34 fiasco has been raised by persons who note he has a Constitutional responsibility for the administration of legal affairs in the Cabinet.
Questions have been raised over Ramlogan’s handling of the extradition matter involving Galbaransingh and Ferguson since 2012 when the Attorney General failed to serve advance notice on the United States of his intent to go public with the signing of an extradition warrant for Ferguson and Galbaransingh, who are wanted in the US on corruption charges relating to the $1.6 billion Piarco International Airport build by the UNC.
Recently, Ramlogan, in attempting to distance himself from the Section 34 issue, said he had no expertise in criminal cases and that the Cabinet had assigned responsibility for all criminal matters to the Ministry of Justice.
However, checks with the Gazette revealed that criminal matters were, in fact, removed from the exclusive domain of the Ministry of Justice since June 2011, and Ramlogan remains charged with extradition matters, legal reform and Parliamentary legislative drafting.
Section 34 has been described as bad law on its face, with Acting President, and Senate President, Timothy Hamel-Smith last week saying the section was “simply wrong” and should never have been passed.After announcing that she had fired Volney last month on the basis of serious misrepresentation that he had consulted with the Judiciary over an early proclamation of Section 34 on August 31, Persad-Bissessar defended Ramlogan. She said he had no involvement in the actual proclamation of the section and was out of the country from July 20 to August 4. However, the Cabinet decision to proclaim Section 34, contained in a note tabled by Volney, was made on August 9, when Ramlogan was present.
Ramlogan was also present in the Senate, on November 29, 2011, when Volney tabled the controversial second version of Section 34 which inserted the ten-year statute of limitation and a provision compelling a judge to declare applicants “not guilty”. Ramlogan also took the decision to not appeal a High Court ruling which blocked extradition of the Piarco-accused mere days after President George Maxwell-Richards assented the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act.
According to Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard SC, the assent of the Act would have been inevitably been within Ramlogan’s mind when he took the decision to not appeal, ostensibly on the basis that the men would face trial in local court. Ramlogan also appeared to oversee the drafting of a repeal bill, rushed to Parliament last month to revoke Section 34, which omitted to contain provisions to shield the State from constitutional lawsuits from persons who would have applied under the Section before the law was repealed. Those provisions, according to a statement made by Ramlogan himself, were inserted only after the input of Persad-Bissessar, a former attorney general.
Ramlogan also did not, in the Senate on September 13, entertain any amendments to the repeal law from Senators, a move which would have forced another sitting of the House of Representatives. The legislation seemed to be rushed in order to have the law assented by September 14, the day the Piarco matter resumed at the Magistrates’ Court.
Lawyers warned the timing of repeal appeared to coincide with the case and intensified the perception that the repeal law targeted individuals. With only 47 possible applicants under Section 34, lawyers argued the repeal of the law itself would appear to be an abuse and would, on this ground, be a basis for discharge without trial.