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Dissident LATT attorney: I trust Sturge’s political acumen AND support Armour

Attorney Jonathan Bhagan, one of 30 signatories on a no confidence motion against Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) president Reginald Armour SC and vice-president Gerry Brooks, confirmed today that he was not misled into signing the controversial requisition by UNC Senator Wayne Sturge.

“Mr Sturge did not attempt to mislead me in any way despite allegations from other signatories that they were mislead,” said Bhagan, via a media statement. “I placed trust in Mr Sturge’s political acumen that such a move was necessary to bring certain issues to light in order to preserve the fabric of our democracy.”

Photo: UNC Senator and attorney Wayne Sturge.
Photo: UNC Senator and attorney Wayne Sturge.

However, Bhagan simultaneously claimed to “full confidence” in Armour’s leadership of the LATT. His statement, which was emailed to the media, was ostensibly meant to clarify his role in the motion that was quashed yesterday at a special general meeting without even getting off the ground.

The requisition, which was served to the LATT council on 30 June 2016, had two parts:

  1. To call upon the President of the Law Association Mr Reginald Armour SC 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?
  2. 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.

However, the LATT pointed out that its response to the SSA Bill was guided by research from committee members Ravi Rajcoomar and Rishi Dass on 11 April and discussed in a Council meeting on 12 April while, after meeting Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, Armour and Brooks reported back to its executive members on 14 April and 10 May.

Photo: Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) president Reginald Armour SC talks at the Transparency Institute anti-corruption conference on 8 March 2016. (Copyright Shaun Rambaran/forge.co.tt)
Photo: Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) president Reginald Armour SC talks at the Transparency Institute anti-corruption conference on 8 March 2016.
(Copyright Shaun Rambaran/forge.co.tt)

The Law Association’s response and the publication of the unhappy attorneys saw 12 of the original 30 signatories officially abandon the motion—and at least nine attorneys claimed to have been misled by Sturge.

The attorneys who abandoned the requisition are: Ravi Rajcoomar, Alisa Khan, Shivana Nath, Irshaad Ali, Adam Razack, Shivonne Francis, Indarjit Seuraj, Seana Baboolal, Brent Hallpike, Makeda Browne-Alfred, Jerry Lee Ramkissoon-David and UNC legal advisor Collin Partap.

The attorneys who have not distanced themselves from the controversial motion 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.

Neither Sturge nor fellow UNC Senator Gerald Ramdeen defended the requisition at yesterday’s LATT special general meeting while fellow instigators, ex-Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and ex-UNC Senator Robin Montano, stayed away.

Photo: Former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan. (Courtesy HeritageRadioTT)
Photo: Former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan.
(Courtesy HeritageRadioTT)

Bhagan was absent too but he explained that his absence was due to his bout with the Zika virus and he stood by his initial position. Yet, paradoxically, he claimed to be “assured” that the motion failed.

“I signed the petition with full knowledge of its contents, however I did orally express a reservation to Mr Wayne Sturge that Mr Armour, SC had not done anything to warrant a motion of no confidence,” said Bhagan. “(…) I had noted the withdrawals from the motion of no confidence and I felt assured that even in my absence, the motion would fail.

“I was also recovering from symptoms associated with the Zika virus and did not consider it expedient to attend the meeting.

“I was, however, encouraged by my colleagues in the legal fraternity, and motivated by my good conscience, to release a clarifying statement, due to the seriousness of the matter at hand.”

Bhagan attempted to explain his apparent contradiction by claiming that his support for the requisition, which included a no confidence motion, was his way of encouraging debate on the SSA Bill.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago attorney Jonathan Bhagan.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago attorney Jonathan Bhagan.

“I had hoped that it would result in a debate on the implications of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) Amendment Bill 2016 and the way it impacted the constitutional rights of Trinidad and Tobago’s citizens.

“I am of the firm view that such legislation can only be justifiable in Trinidad and Tobago if the Police Service and National Security apparatus undergo adequate reform. Further, I believe that the oversight of an independent body would be necessary to prevent manipulation and political victimisation by the Executive.”

Bhagan, like Sturge, claimed that his mind was put at ease following a release by the Law Association on 19 July. He did not offer comment on LATT’s statement that it discussed the matter with its Council on12 April and reported back to the body on 14 April and 10 May—almost two months before the requisition was put forward.

“A statement was subsequently released by the Law Association on 19 July via email regarding consultation on the SSA Bill,” stated Bhagan. “This statement satisfied me that the Law Association President and Vice President took the necessary steps to advise the Honourable Attorney General about issues regarding the failure of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) Amendment Bill 2016 to properly insulate the SSA from potential manipulation by the Executive.”

Bhagan, who described Armour as a leader that demonstrated the greatest integrity, said he hoped for “peace and camaraderie” within the legal fraternity, as well full respect for freedom of thought and expression. He said he attempted to reach the Law Association President to personally explain his position on the requisition.

However, according to Bhagan, “the email was returned to my inbox unsent.”

Photo: Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) president Reginald Armour SC (centre) meets and greets at the Transparency Institute anti-corruption conference on 8 March 2016. (Copyright Shaun Rambaran/forge.co.tt)
Photo: Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) president Reginald Armour SC (centre) meets and greets at the Transparency Institute anti-corruption conference on 8 March 2016.
(Copyright Shaun Rambaran/forge.co.tt)

The following is the full statement from attorney Jonathan Bhagan:

Dear colleagues and esteemed members of the Bar,

This correspondence serves to clarify my position on the motion of no confidence raised against Mr Reginald Armour, SC and to explain my absence from the meeting, held on July 25th, 2016 as a result of same.

I signed the petition with full knowledge of its contents, however I did orally express a reservation to Mr Wayne Sturge that Mr Armour, SC had not done anything to warrant a motion of no confidence. Mr Sturge did not attempt to mislead me in any way despite allegations from other signatories that they were mislead. I placed trust in Mr Sturge’s political acumen that such a move was necessary to bring certain issues to light in order to preserve the fabric of our democracy.

Subsequent to my signing of the petition, I had attempted to contact Mr Armour via his personal Marie De Vere email address, to explain why I had signed, but due to unknown technical problems, the email was returned to my inbox unsent.

My deep interest in human rights advocacy and work with civil society had guided my decision to sign the aforementioned petition, as I had hoped that it would result in a debate on the implications of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) Amendment Bill 2016 and the way it impacted the constitutional rights of Trinidad and Tobago’s citizens.

Photo: Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
Photo: Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.

I am of the firm view that such legislation can only be justifiable in Trinidad and Tobago if the Police Service and National Security apparatus undergo adequate reform. Further, I believe that the oversight of an independent body would be necessary to prevent manipulation and political victimisation by the Executive.

Given global political instabilities, the crime situation and the large number of Trinidad and Tobago Citizens who have joined international terrorist organisations I considered the very real possibility of Trinidad and Tobago devolving into a police state with serious infringements on human rights becoming the norm.

A statement was subsequently released by the Law Association on 19 July via email regarding consultation on the SSA Bill. This statement satisfied me that the Law Association President and Vice President took the necessary steps to advise the Honourable Attorney General about issues regarding the failure of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) Amendment Bill 2016 to properly insulate the SSA from potential manipulation by the Executive.

Given the fact that the SSA Amendment Bill had already been passed by the Parliament and assented to by the President I did not consider any contribution I could make at the Special General Meeting significant. I had been satisfied by the statement released by the Law Association on 19 July that the President and Vice President of the Law Association had done their due diligence and thus I had no major concerns to ventilate at the meeting.

Photo: Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago vice-president Gerry Brooks. (Copyright NGC)
Photo: Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago vice-president Gerry Brooks.
(Copyright NGC)

I had noted the withdrawals from the motion of no confidence and I felt assured that even in my absence, the motion would fail. I was also recovering from symptoms associated with the Zika virus and did not consider it expedient to attend the meeting.

I was, however, encouraged by my colleagues in the legal fraternity, and motivated by my good conscience, to release a clarifying statement, due to the seriousness of the matter at hand.

I apologise to the President and Vice-President of the Law Association for any inconvenience caused by my absence and in closing, express my full confidence in Mr Armour SC to lead the Law Association, as he has always demonstrated the greatest integrity.

I hope that despite the confusion that ensued, the Law Association can take this opportunity to repair divisions between the ranks of its membership and maintain peace and camaraderie.

I also hope that we maintain a society that has full respect for the right to Freedom of Thought and Expression as enshrined in our constitution. Despite the chaos that ensued as a result of this motion it shows that the Law Association remains a fundamental component of our democracy by permitting its members to express their concerns freely.

Regards,

Jonathan Bhagan,

Attorney At Law

 

Editor’s Note: Jonathan Bhagan requested, after Wired868’s publication of his letter, that—since the story is already published and will not be taken down—republication should be discouraged on advice of legal counsel.

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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258 comments

  1. I have had a look at the letters (copies provided by Rhoda Bharath)sent by various attorneys but I have not seen a copy of the original petition. They make me wonder though whether the item describing the ‘no confidence’ motion was on a separate page which was inserted after the signatures were collected? This could explain why they were unaware of the NC motion and would certainly raise a whole lot of other issues.

  2. It is time to further Amend the Legal Profession Act Chap 90:03. It is my opinion as an average citizen that once you hold the office of President of LATT, you should have no political affiliation.

  3. I have my doubts that the procedure to get the membership together to debate an issue is to call for a vote of no-confidence of the top executives. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Serious questions raised as to his decision making abilities. The wording of the petition is clear so I am rather curious as to the exact mechanisms employed on the misled.

  4. I doh even wah he in a cuss case, he go wah me to plead guilty for wounding, in that cuss case.

  5. Hmmmm. Anyone who starts a sentence with “I trust Wayne Sturge” is not the sharpest tool in the box. You can dress it up however you want. But that dress have holes and you also need a half-of-slip. ??

  6. Lawyers who don’t do due diligence. Hmmmm….

  7. Why allyuh acting surprised? From his vlogs, he has proven time and time again that he isn’t the sharpest tool in the proverbial shed.

  8. Anybody else noticed that the date on those letters [from the attorneys who abandoned the requisition] posted by RhodaBharath is before the actual meeting?

  9. This is the longest discussion about a social committee I have ever seen!

  10. I blame the Zika for the BS he wrote

  11. They were trying to make Reginald Armour came out fresh as a sweet red Rose,but they came out as withered red old red rose to throw out in the thrash,you all should be looking for a game warden work INstead of looking to defend citizens,you all game did not pay off it back fire Always say some of does play mass and afraid to get powder,but always know mass playing prize is either powder or mud

  12. Are we saying this is the argument that will kill GATE lol

  13. I wish someone would post a copy of the original document they signed

  14. ..all I would say as a Bush Lawyer…..is .I’m surprised that after all that education I think GATE is the problem……..Dotishness…all kind ah excuse from them now……They didn’t see and the didn’t now….

  15. until they make it fair to the clients -that lawyers only get paid if they win the case – I cannot take anything issue they have seriously

  16. Ok now I confused I lost please I don’t speak lawyer speak. Could you all update me

  17. I wish Ms Babolal would expound to us what she understood by the 2nd point of the motion presented to her for signature.

  18. When I read this part “However, according to Bhagan, “the email was returned to my inbox unsent.”” it explained a lot.. have never seen a sent email return unspent in my life, but I guess there is a first time for everything. It won’t be the first time someone, normally of the spineless variety, has been on both sides of an issue though..

    • Earl Best

      “…normally of the spineless variety…”

      Talk about economy of language, the pen being mightier than the sword! In five words, you have said what 200+ other comments were reaching for-or should have been reaching for..

  19. “I hope that despite the confusion that ensued, the Law Association can take this opportunity to repair divisions between the ranks of its membership and maintain peace and camaraderie.” Like Seriously.
    Eeediaat! Pulllllaeeeeeeze. Him must think say everybody a eeediaat like him.

  20. So you trust someone’s acumen, consequently you signed a document without first researching the reason for the “vote of no confidence”, a decision to remove two top officials of the Law Association from office…makes me wonder about legal representation in T&T.

  21. You will need to add them to the group under the Members column in the top right hand panel Jeaux Marie. 😉

  22. 2 questions. .what’s the membership of the LATT? .. 60?.

    How can 30 signiture trigger a meeting?
    2. How can one not be financial and practice? ..or is it Montano isn’t practicing?

    • The LPA states that 25 signatures needed to trigger a motion Lynch.
      You do not need to be in good financial standing with LATT to practise law in Trinidad.

      • Technically speaking, that is not true, the Act and the Code of Ethics makes it perfectly clear that an Attorney who is not in possession of his Practising certificate is NOT entitled to practise law. It’s professional misconduct

    • Lord have mercy… so 25 troublemakers could trigger a meeting every week?

    • Btw.. it’s the same with medicine. .. i was ashamed when I learnt u need not pay your medical board registration to practice. .ashamed…

    • 25 signatures with respect to calling the special meeting and the motion. I don’t know the LPA intimately. There may be different provisions for other things.

    • Shaun Lynch…I think I posted a judgment a while ago from the Industrial Court. I would be concerned too, but if I recollect correctly, the Medical Board is for Doctors and not Specialists, so I believe there is no requirement for them to register cause there is no body to register with! I am subject to correction though.
      On the issue of the LATT, I am curious-is the answer yes or no for non-financial members to practice. And what does ‘practice’ mean? You do not go to Court if you are a non-financial member but you can do the administrative work?

    • Lol…worst than that Nerisha Mohammed… there is no specialist register in trinidad and Tobago despite the act to create one being passed in 2007.
      Since 2007 we have not come up with the criteria to be part of such. .IMO DELIBERATELY so by some whose interest is to have it this way so they can continue pretending to be specialist. I was part of a sub committee recently that came up wit such criteria and submitted to council who has circulated just yesterday I heard. Don’t know if it has been circulated for comment or if they have accepted as the final criteria but at least we seem near to resolving this embarrassing issue

  23. I don’t think Bhagan’s situation can be compared to that of a coup leader. But ok

  24. Billionaires vs millionaires (who wanna be billionaires)..NEXT

  25. Tomorrow morning we will hear Abu Bakr discuss all of the good he doing for the youth in his community these past years.

  26. Jonathan Bhagan stay strong, you’ve been doing good work elsewhere for the country’s benefit. Mistakes happen. I don’t understand your letter-but I think you may have wanted the thing redone to include only the first portion.