Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) president Reginald Armour SC and vice-president Gerry Brooks will need the support of their membership to keep their respective positions, as they attempt to stave off a vote of no confidence instigated by a faction that includes former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan SC and past and present UNC Senators Wayne Sturge, Gerald Ramdeen and Robin Montano.
The fate of Armour and Brooks will be decided at a special general meeting on Monday 25 July from 3pm at the Hall of Justice’s Convocation Hall at Knox Street, Port of Spain.
And, in his column today, prominent local attorney and former Independent Senator Martin Daly SC spoke dramatically about the stakes involved:
“The outcome of this meeting may determine the Association’s viability as an organisation with an influential voice on matters of pending legislation and civil liberties.”
The clash itself is, inescapably, a matter of partisan politics with either group pointing fingers at the other.
The dissenting attorneys argued that Armour and Brooks brought the legal body into disrepute by virtue of their interaction with Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi with regards to the Strategic Services Agency (Amendment) Bill.
The requisition, which was served to the LATT council on 30 June 2016, had two parts:
a) To call upon the President of the Law Association Mr Reginald Armour S.C. and the Vice President Mr Gerry Brooks to disclose to the members of the Law Association whether any substantive position was articulated to the Honourable Attorney General Mr Faris Al-Rawi, MP on behalf of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago regarding the Strategic Services Agency (Amendment) Bill 2016 and if so what was articulated to the Honourable Attorney General? And if not, why not?
b) To move a motion for a vote of No Confidence in the President of the Law Association Mr Reginald Armour S.C. and the Vice President Mr Gerry Brooks for failing to consult with the membership of the Law Association to obtain its views on the Strategic Services Agency (Amendment) Bill 2016 prior to meeting with the Honourable Attorney General being a Bill of grave public importance regarding the constitutional rights of citizens.
The requisition had 30 bar numbers and signatures attached and Rule 23 of the First Schedule to the Legal Profession Act states that any 25 financial members of the LATT request a special general meeting, which the council must call within 30 days.
One of the signatories, Robin Montano, was not a financial member of the body, which brought the dissenting group down to 29.
On 5 July, five days after the requisition, Armour responded and suggested that part (a) of the group’s claim was flawed and frivolous:
“In meeting with the Attorney General in April 2016 on the Strategic Services Agency (Amendment) Bill 2016, the President and the Vice President did so with the full authority and knowledge of the Council of the Law Association, so as to draw to the Attorney General’s attention the concerns of Council on the Bill.
“The President and Vice President immediately thereafter reported the details of this meeting with the Attorney General to the Council by email and over the course of two meetings held in April and May 2016. With the approval of Council, the President posted a report of that meeting on the website of the Law Association.
“This represents the normal convention and protocol of the Law Association and was the same approach adopted most recently on the Anti-Gang and Bail legislation.”
Two days later, the LATT took out an advertisement in the Trinidad Guardian newspaper which reproduced the requisition and listed all 30 signatories:
Robin Montano, Wayne Sturge, Alexia Romero, Joseph Sookoo, Danielle Rampersad, Kevin Lewis, Shirvani Ramkissoon, Abigail Roach-Thomas, Shanice Edwards, Adam Razack, Ravi Rajcoomar, Irshaad Ali, Indarjit Seuraj, Shivana Nath, Alisa Khan, Shivonne Francis, Collin Partap, Seana Baboolal, Jonathan Bhagan, Brent Hallpike, Devesh Ramdeo, Makeda Browne-Alfred, Jerry-Lee Ramkissoon-David, Jennifer Rogers, Alvin Pariagsingh, Jayanti Lutchmedial, Anand Ramlogan, Kent Samlal, Douglas Bayley and Gerald Ian Ramdeen.
Incidentally, Ravi Rajcoomar sat on the very Criminal Legislation Committee that helped craft the Law Association’s response to the SSA Bill, which Armour and Brooks took to Al-Rawi.
Rajcoomar abandoned the requisition on the very day of the Guardian advertisement and declared his “every confidence” in Brooks and Armour. The attorney, who claimed to be “somewhat surprised” at the no confidence motion, did not explain how his signature came to be attached to the document.
Four days later, seven more attorneys withdrew and claimed their signatures “were appended under a fundamental mistake or misapprehension on our part.” They also declared their trust and confidence in the LATT Council.
Intriguingly, former People’s Partnership Minister in the Ministry of National Security and current legal advisor to the UNC, Collin Partap, was among this seven, which also included Alisa Khan, Shivana Nath, Irshaad Ali, Adam Razack, Shivonne Francis and Indarjit Seuraj. They gave a joint statement:
“We were under the impression that we were signing a petition requisitioning a meeting of the Law Association to discuss matters relating to the Strategic Services Agency (Amendment) Bill 2016.
“Regretfully, at that time, we were unaware of the full nature and background of the requisition and in the event, therefore, when we signed the signature sheet, we had no intention whatsoever to requisition a meeting to censure anyone, to call upon anyone to account for their actions and/or to move a vote of no confidence against anyone.”
By Friday 22 July, the number of back-pedalling attorneys had risen to 12 as Seana Baboolal, Brent Hallpike, Makeda Browne-Alfred and Jerry Lee Ramkissoon-David also withdrew.
On 19 July, the Law Association spelt out its position on its interaction with the PNM Attorney General in a detailed response to its members:
- On 1 April 2016, the media first published information on the proposed SSA Bill. Three days later, Armour wrote to Al-Rawi—after obtaining a copy of the Bill from the Parliament’s website—and stated that the Law Association wished to comment on it. During that exchange, the LATT President learned that debate on the Bill would resume in the House of Representatives on 16 April, less than two weeks away.
- Armour co-opted Rajcoomar and attorney Rishi Dass who both articulated their concerns by 11 April, which were then discussed in a Council meeting on 12 April. The new Council, incidentally, had only been elected on 20 March 2016 and was not gazetted until 3 May.
- Armour and Brooks met with Al-Rawi on 13 April for a lengthy meeting. The Law Association president subsequently reported back to Council on 14 April and then officially on 10 May, which was the first meeting of the gazetted 30th Council.
On the eve of the special general meeting, there are just 17 attorneys left from the initial 30 dissenters, which would have been insufficient numbers to call the assembly in the first place. The attorneys who have not distanced themselves from the requisition are:
Wayne Sturge, Alexia Romero, Joseph Sookoo, Danielle Rampersad, Kevin Lewis, Shirvani Ramkissoon, Abigail Roach-Thomas, Shanice Edwards, Jonathan Bhagan, Devesh Ramdeo, Jennifer Rogers, Alvin Pariagsingh, Jayanti Lutchmedial, Anand Ramlogan, Kent Samlal, Douglas Bayley and Gerald Ian Ramdeen.
However, the threat to Armour and Brooks remains serious as, even if the claims against the president and vice-president are dismissed, the two attorneys could still be voted out, if Ramlogan and company turn up with enough numbers.
Fifty financial members constitute a quorum and it will take just a simple majority to remove Armour and Brooks.
One legal insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity, claimed that the Law Association—and, in particular, its president and vice-president—were being repeatedly harassed by the Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her UNC stalwarts. He claimed that the no confidence motion was part of an assault by the opposition party.
“It was dishonesty manipulated by partisan politics,” the legal source told Wired868. “From the moment Armour ran for the post [as Law Association president], he was constantly referred to as, by the Opposition Leader, as a former legal adviser to (Prime Minister Dr Keith) Rowley and business partner of Al Rawi and Brooks is repeatedly described as the ‘new Calder Hart’ in an effort to tarnish them.”
So are Armour and Brooks too close to the ruling government for comfort?
Armour was Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s lead attorney before he was elected LATT president. Three days later, he returned all his briefs for the PNM leader.
“I do not intend to allow partisan national politics to affect or to impact the Law Association,” said Armour, in a Guardian interview on 30 March 2015. “We are going to call a spade a spade and who the cap fits we will pull the string. I think it is important that we, myself and the council, make every effort that we can to put the stamp on the council and the Law Association as being non-partisan.
“I have been listening to people talking to me about the image of the Law Association and the need for the Law Association to re-establish itself, to command the public’s respect and I thought about (that).”
At present, Brooks sits on a half-dozen State boards though. Brooks also served as vice-president under former LATT president Jairam Seenath SC, who was criticised for supposedly being biased towards the then coalition People’s Partnership government.
Armour defeated Seenath by 323 votes to 106 on 20 March 2015.
The UNC, according to the source, sees the Law Association as a valuable potential weapon against the PNM Government.
“The Law Association is not out there commenting on everything because it needs to be doing work for its members,” said the source. “This is not a political pressure group. But the opposition wants lawyers out there criticising the government on the drop of a hat.”
Despite the exodus from the requisition, the LATT Council is said to remain cautious about tomorrow’s meeting and is calling on members to defend the sanctity of the body.
“Not all lawyers turn out for meetings because, for many, you are talking about taking an afternoon off to come to Port of Spain from San Fernando and so on,” said the source. “Maybe the withdrawals might lead people to say this meeting is a waste of time and they could stay away. And that might mean Ramlogan and Sturge and their people might come with enough numbers to push the vote through.
“They might feel they can mobilise people for political reason so they can win. A lot will depend on how many people [Armour and Brooks] can get out.”
Editor’s Note: The motion of no confidence against Law Association president Reginald Armour SC and vice-president Gerry Brooks failed.