19 Apr 2019

More questions than answers

There are several matters that are on my mind following recent reports in the local newspapers.

  1. After seeing a report about a “fake police station” and the ‘prisoners’ therein, my thoughts went to the healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your point of view) relationship between the police and Venezuelan/Columbian females, going back decades. One can only guess why raids on brothels require police to wear masks… afraid of being identified as clients by the arrestees? I also noticed that the numerous past reports indicate that it is mainly police officers who have these women as ‘guests’ in their homes.
  2. The ‘Wealth Bill’ is another matter that gives me unease. Despite ‘reassurances’ by the Attorney General, there has never been a law enacted that has never been abused when the potential to do so is there. In other words, the potential for abuse is a certainty of abuse. Every time. Often in creative ways.
  3. The Prime Minister, and indirectly the President, are sitting on their hands with respect to the most important Constitutional issue (arguably) in the entire history of the country since Independence from England. I refer to the matter of the Chief Justice (CJ) who has allegations against him amounting to serious misconduct in office if they are true. There is a duty, both legally and morally, for the Prime Minister to trigger an investigation via section 137 of the Constitution, by referring the matter to the President for an independent tribunal to carry out a proper investigation.

Instead, we have now become the only country in the entire history of the Commonwealth, to be in this position. But oh, how swift was the PNM in making the same type of recommendation against Sat Sharma, a former ‘Indian’ CJ, when there were allegations against him! This surely makes race a factor in the apathy of the Prime Minister.

But let’s put race aside. Can it be that the Prime Minister is afraid of being caught in a sting regarding the issue of cavorting with the CJ? The present CJ acknowledges that he approached the PM to influence the Trinidad & Tobago Housing Development Corporation (HDC), an Agency of the Ministry of Housing & Urban Development, and which the Prime Minster was formerly in charge of under the Manning stewardship. What else would an investigation reveal? That seems to be the million-dollar question.

  1. The pace of murders occurring is accelerating. The ability of the police to detect and solve these is decelerating. And apparently, never the twain shall meet…

Can we get answers from those in charge please?

6 Apr 2019

Common sense and transparency

The case of Jamaicans for Justice v Police Service Commission & Anor (Jamaica) [2019] UKPC 12, decided on March 25, 2019 at the Privy Council (PC) has very strong lessons for Trinidad and Tobago. It is directly related to issues of , and has bearing on the reluctance of President Paula Mae Weekes to divulge information on the selection process and the names of judges selected for higher office. It is also applicable where police officers are to be appointed/promoted when they have charges (accusations) against them.

The case (found at http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKPC/2019/12.html) is summarised below, adapted from the judgment:

“The issue in this case is what steps the (Jamaican) Police Service Commission (PSC), which is charged with deciding upon the appointment and promotion of police officers, should take to inform itself about officers recommended for promotion who have been involved in fatal incidents before making its decisions. In particular, is there a duty to ensure that allegations of extra-judicial killings against such an officer are fully and independently investigated before accepting a recommendation that he be promoted?

Jamaicans for Justice (“JJ”) is anon-governmental, non-partisan human rights organisation. It challenged the PSC on the promotion of police officer Superintendent Hewitt under the grounds that there were complaints of unprofessional conduct against Superintendent Hewitt, including complaints of fatal shootings by officers under his command.

The purpose of setting up the (Police Service Commission) PSC, along with the other public service commissions provided for in the Constitution, is to insulate the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) (and other public office holders) from political influence (Thomas v Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago [1982] AC 113). [This is directly applicable to Trinidad and Tobago as well.]

The PC (called “the Board”) in the judgment noted the following:

  • While the level of serious violent crime in some parts of Jamaica was a grave concern, there was also a grave concern, both nationally and internationally, that the police, or some members of the JCF, were overly inclined to take the law into their own hands in dealing with it, thus risking violations of the right to life, to due process of the law and to equality before the law of the people involved. Superintendent Hewitt was involved, as team leader, in a large number of fatal incidents. No independent investigation of these incidents had taken place. Such an investigation might reveal a different picture from the very summary table of incidents with which the PSC had been provided. It would serve to put the statements of the Commissioner, and of Superintendent Hewitt himself, as to his effectiveness in fighting crime, into context. The final decision would still be that of the PSC, but there was a reasonable prospect that a properly informed PSC might have made a different decision.”

The Privy Council found in favour of Jamaicans for Justice. In other words, there is a duty to fully and independently investigate a police officer whose behaviour has been questionable in the line of duty, before deciding to promote him.

Now apply that principle to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (“TTPS”), the Police Complaints Authority, and Gary ‘one-shot, one kill’ Griffith. And to the President denying access to information regarding the (secretive) selection of judges – where is the transparency? Can the public be really certain that the persons so selected do not have cause for investigations into their backgrounds? Lack of transparency led to inappropriate appointments to the Integrity Commission, Police Service Commission, the Judicial and Legal Services Commission, the Judiciary… And I can go on and on…

It takes the Privy Council to direct officeholders into following what ought to be common sense.

30 Mar 2019

Imbert’s Ego

In a clear difference of opinions playing out in the media (“Colm calls Gary’s cries for $$ ‘fake news’” [Newsday 20/03/19]), Finance Minister Com Imbert and Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith are each contradicting the other with regard to funding for the police service. This is not the first time, nor the last I suspect.

What struck me as being ‘normal’ on par for Minister Imbert is his arrogance coming to the fore. At every opportunity to stroke his own ego, Mr Imbert is thumping his chest, insisting as it were that he is the only ‘capable’ person in the room. Or implying he is the most intelligent.

"I think the new people are not entirely familiar with how to do the paperwork necessary to request funds because, quite often, I get asked to intervene and help and that, to me, as far as I’m concerned, is the real problem.”

So, among other things we are led to believe Imbert is the best accountant and financial adviser in the country and no paperwork going to the Ministry of Finance from the police service is correctly done, and the Minister must do the paperwork personally if it is to be done right.

I recall last year when a reporter questioned the length of time the Galleons Passage was taking to come to Trinidad, Mr Imbert was his usual snotty self in putting her down. He talked down in a very conceited manner to the reporter saying the ‘free’ software tracking the boat was not as good as the paid version he was using. Of course, time and history has proven the reporter right. One wonders then how the finance wizard can explain paying for software that proved to be so imprecise, when the free version was dead-to-rights accurate.

A word to the wise, Minister. Poodles and pompeks often think they too are the biggest and the ‘baddest’.

1 Mar 2019

Liquid paper President

If the Newsday is correct in reporting [Newsday 28/02/2019] that President Weekes “is proposing to the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) to revoke the appointment of Appeal Court judge Charmaine Pemberton” and “re-appointed under the correct provision: section 110(3) (a)”, one can only wonder whether the President thinks that this is sufficient to correct the constitutional chaos caused by the appointment.

It seems that the President is glossing over the fact that Justice Pemberton was illegally appointed, and took part in decision-making during this time, decisions which in themselves would be illegal if she formed part of the quorum as required by law. The shambles which the country and the judiciary find itself is not so easily solved. What of the appointments made to the judicial bench by the JLSC? And the flowing from those, what of all those convictions and sentences passed by those appointees?

It is perhaps the Trinidadian way to think that simply “firing” and “rehiring” Justice Pemberton would solve the problem. All that is doing is putting a coat of paint on a sadly battered fence, to use a Mark Twain analogy. Or, more aptly in this case, a dab of ‘Liquid Paper’ over a ‘b’ to change it to an ‘a’. That merely resolves the problem of the appointment from this point onward, while the rot that started in 2017 with the original ‘appointment’ remains.

The liquid paper President ironically writes to propose a solution to the very body that is illegal! Does she need the approval of the JLSC to make the changes? Imagine a judge asking a convicted felon, “I’m suggesting I sentence you to the death penalty, do you approve?”

The situation is not merely farcical, it’s a downright upright middle finger to the entire country! And, don’t forget the proposal to reappoint Justice Pemberton again points that middle finger at the more senior judges who also qualified for the post.

What I understand further is that in Trinidad, power – perceived power – is held on to at all costs. It is why Justice Pemberton, like so many others, does not have the shame to resign, but is waiting for the ignominy of being ‘fired’. It would have been simple for her to resign following the Privy Council (PC) judgment, but that is not the Trini way, is it?

Or, maybe she sees that a resignation letter is too much to liquid paper over.

24 Feb 2019

Weekes weak week

I note with some amusement that President Weekes ‘suddenly discovered’ an error was made in the paperwork leading up to the appointment of Judge Charmaine Pemberton as a member of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC).

“She explained what the error was: “While the relevant instrument of appointment indeed indicated that the Honourable Justice had been appointed, in accordance with the provisions of paragraph (b) of subsection (3) of section 110 of the Constitution, the letters of consultation to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition dated 21st July, 2017, and which preceded the appointment, referred to section 110 (3) (a).”” [Newsday 23/02/2019]

Being an irreverent and sceptical criticiser of political figures, I now have to ask if the following persons were asleep during the last few years this matter was winding its way through the courts?

  1. The Prime Minister
  2. The Opposition Leader
  3. The ex-President
  4. The current President
  5. The Chairman of the JLSC/Chief Justice

A whole team of knowledgeable lawyers took this all the way to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (PC) and no one ‘discovered’ the error until now? I for one believe that when the case was researched for presenting through the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and finally the Privy Council, any genuine error would have been unearthed. Not that it matters.

Justice Pemberton remains illegally appointed. It matters not what the “letters of consultation to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition” say. The fact that her appointment was made under s110(3)(b) in her ‘instrument of appointment’ clearly makes it illegal (ultra vires or ‘outside the law’) when it was made, and still remains so.

The sceptic in me tends to believe that a bit of jiggery-pokery is being done to save the face of Justice Pemberton, and/or Presidents Carmona and Weekes. Not to mention avoid a constitutional mess where appointments made by the JLSC could be considered null and therefore prisoners could challenge convictions and sentences from those who were appointed to the bench during this period.

An illegal appointment can’t be ‘redressed’ by and as President Weekes would have us believe. That appointment was ‘frozen in time’ when it was made years ago and now any redress lies outside the powers the President thinks she has.

For those who wonder why I am making a big deal out of this, I ask you to consider that decisions made by an illegal JLSC would themselves be illegal. So, any judge appointed by an illegal JLSC is not legally sitting in office, and all of his sentences and decisions are up for review. This is the constitutional mess the country finds itself in.