Ex-CCJ president slams recent Senior Counsel awards as "aberration"
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Wednesday January 4, 2012 -Former President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Michael de la Bastide has criticised the recent award of Senior Counsel (silk) to members of the judiciary, describing it as an “aberration”.
And, he has suggested that such awards be removed from the discretion of politicians.
The position by the ex-CCJ president was put forward less than a week after Chief Justice Ivor Archie, Court of Appeal Judge Wendell Kangaloo, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and 10 others were conferred with the status of Senior Counsel by President George Maxwell Richards.
This was done on the prime minister’s recommendation following consultation with some stakeholders including the Law Association.
But de la Bastide argues that the elevation to the rank of Senior Counsel can only be appropriately conferred on a practicing “counsel”.
“The fact that a judge has been a practising attorney (however distinguished) before assuming judicial office, or may after a prescribed period return to practice after he retires, cannot serve to qualify him for the award of silk while he is still on the Bench. It is fundamental to our concept of justice that the roles of judge and counsel be kept strictly separate and distinct,” he stated in a letter.
He pointed out that individuals who accept to serve on the Bench are required to forego many advantages and opportunities that were available to them while in practice, including taking silk.
“The argument that sitting judges must be allowed to prepare for their return to private practice after they demit office is plainly unsustainable,” he stated.
“The law at present prescribes that a judge of the Supreme Court may not appear before the courts of this country for a period of ten years after demitting office. Even if this period were halved by an amendment of the law, this would still leave ample time for the retired judge to apply for silk if he so wishes.”
According to the former CCJ president, Trinidad and Tobago should remove the grant of silk from “the hands of the politicians” and make it the responsibility of an independent panel.
That group, he said, should comprise representatives of the legal profession and civil society.
“Suitable criteria should also be formulated to guide this panel and these criteria should not include the holding of any particular office, political or other,” he added.
De la Bastide retired from the CCJ last year after being appointed as its first president in 2004.