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Kamla: Tribunal only way to solve problem
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday rejected a proposal by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for a legislative resolution to what she called “the debacle” over the more than 53 unfinished matters left behind by former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar.
The matter has created turmoil in the courts with acting Chief Magistrate Maria Busby Earle-Caddle still awaiting instructions on how to proceed with the affected cases, after Ayers-Caesar was forced to resign after being appointed a judge in April and leaving behind the cases in the lower court.
Rowley proposed that the matter be resolved through a legislative intervention but Persad-Bissessar objected yesterday, saying such a proposal may only create a bigger problem. She said Rowley did not give any details about the proposal except to say he wanted to amend the Preliminary Inquiry Act and Summary Courts Act.
“He did not state exactly what will be done,” Persad-Bissessar said during a news conference at the Opposition Leader’s office in Port-of-Spain.
Persad-Bissessar said the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC) matter was “a mess” but insisted the Opposition was not of the view “a legislative intervention should be undertaken.”
She said she presented evidence to Rowley about the infamous Section 34 case between former UNC financier Steve Ferguson and the attorney general, which showed a “legislative intervention would not stand up and can be struck down if we should pass legislation.”
She said in the Section 34 matter people would not have been severely disadvantaged by the repeal of the law, but in the current matter there were more than 53 cases before the courts and some of the accused have been incarcerated.” She said they were “entitled to a judicial determination and not a legislative one.”
Persad-Bissessar said the issue of the separation of powers also arises in this matter, but there was no agreement on that issue at the meeting as Rowley was “very vague” on it. She said the only way the matter could be properly resolved was by triggering Section 137 of the Constitution for the appointment of a tribunal to investigate it.
However, Persad-Bissessar said the Opposition was of the firm view that the JLSC debacle had “brought the administration of justice at the lowest point it has ever been in T&T.”
“We cannot just move on as though nothing has happened,” she said, adding that possible litigation being brought by Ayers-Caesar against Chief Justice Ivor Archie will further demean confidence in the administration of justice.
She said Rowley gave no commitment on a tribunal.
On the system of the appointment of judges, Persad-Bissessar said she agreed with Rowley that this process should be looked at.
Dealing with the Integrity Commission, Persad-Bissessar said she did not share Rowley’s view that there was a total loss of confidence in the body. She said, however, that there was need to strengthen the commission.
Earlier, Persad-Bissessar said following the meeting it was clear the Government was in need of advice and help in many areas.
On the need for internal self government for Tobago and legislation on election campaign financing, Persad-Bissessar said there was agreement in principle. She said the meeting was a good exercise and welcomed further such meetings with the PM.
“It’s been a fruitful day, well worth the discussions,” she added.
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