PORT OF SPAIN – In an historic move, chief justice (CJ) Ivor Archie has initiated legal action against the Law Association, saying it has no authority to investigate him, and has sought to block any further action by the association pending the outcome of High Court action.
But the association says the letter will not stop them from moving ahead and seeking advice on whether the allegations made against the CJ are enough to warrant the start of impeachment proceedings.
Attorneys for Archie sent a pre-action protocol letter to association president Douglas Mendes on Wednesday. The letter told of the CJ’s intention to begin High Court proceedings to challenge the association’s investigation into his alleged conduct and to seek advice of two queens counsels to determine whether the allegations warranted the prime minister invoking section 137 of the Constitution to begin impeachment proceedings.
The letter came one day after the association sent an email to the CJ’s attorneys indicating they intended to brief Queens Counsels Dr Francis Alexis and Eamon Courtenay and move ahead with set up a tribunal to investigate the CJ.
Those allegations include that the CJ used his office to request Housing Development Corporation housing for persons whom he knew and that he discussed the issue of security for judges with someone who was not a judge.
On Tuesday, the committee, headed by Mendes, which investigated the allegations against the CJ, reported to the council that they had made every effort to get the CJ to respond to the allegations. According to a letter sent to members by Secretary Elena Araujo, on January 20 a letter was sent to the CJ inviting him to respond to the list of allegations which in the committee’s view were sufficiently substantiated to justify requesting a response.
She said attorneys for the CJ first took the position the Law Association had no power to conduct the enquiry and then asked to be provided with relevant documents, photographs and Whatsapp messages in the committee’s possession. The information was provided on February 6. However, she said attorneys for the CJ subsequently failed to respond to the allegations.
The council took a decision to submit the committee report to the QCs on February 23 for their advice and the CJ’s attorneys were informed of this by email dated February 20 and invited to submit the CJ’s response if they wished the counsel to consider it.
The association’s council approved the course of action and there was agreement for a Special General Meeting on March 16 to consider the committee’s report and any advice received from counsel.
But the CJ’s attorneys have since sought to stop the action, indicating the Law Association is not empowered under the legal profession act to conduct, ascertain or establish the basis of allegations made against the chief justice.
In the pre-action protocol letter, the CJ’s lawyers have asked that no further steps be taken until the High Court has pronounced on the legal and constitutional propriety of the association’s proposed action.
According to the CJ’s attorneys, the Constitution provides the exclusive avenue for such an enquiry under section 137 of the Constitution. The pre-action protocol letter further alleged the enquiry was tainted by apparent bias, because of the motion of no confidence motion which was moved against the CJ last year in the midst of allegations against him after the Marcia Ayres-Caesar fiasco. According to the argument, there was “a real possibility” the association’s insistence on conducting an investigation is “motivated by the Law Association’s pre-conceived disposition against” the CJ. The CJ’s attorneys claimed it is “accordingly unconstitutional and unfair” for the association to conduct the investigation.
However, Araujo said the committee intends to proceed with the course of action agreed upon by the council and will submit its brief to the external advisors as planned today (February 23).
Senior attorneys yesterday told the T&T Guardian the association tip-toed around the matter and gave the CJ a way out on his terms. They said there was no need for the association to set up its own investigation, but rather should have joined public calls for the CJ to answer publicly to the allegations against him. With the matter now tied up in court, the Prime Minister cannot act on the matter.