Daly Bread: Salmon letters, red and yellow ducks; how shaky defences of public officials hurts T&T

EPL Infrafred Sauna

Last Sunday, I was examining the two legal processes to which MP Darryl Smith has been subject because the public is confused why these processes have revealed so little about the alleged sexual harassment.

Photo: Former Sport Minister Darryl Smith (right) makes a pass at Minister of Public Utilities Fitzgerald Hinds at the Hasely Crawford Stadium training ground on 20 January 2017.
Hinds did not press charges.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

The industrial court proceedings were cloaked by a non-disclosure agreement signed by the employee who claimed she had been wrongfully dismissed. I left for this week the question: what went wrong with the investigative committee?

According to a report in the newspaper, the prime minister appointed the committee to do a report on Smith after he had fired him from his office of minister, but the committee was said to have produced a report that was described as unusable.

The reason first given for it being unusable was that the report contained ‘negative reflections on Smith without talking to him’. Controversy erupted because it was subsequently acknowledged that Smith was interviewed by the committee, and so it did in fact ‘talk’ to him.

Later still, it became clear that the committee, despite interviewing Smith, did not fulfill all their fairness obligations.

Helpfully, but for the obvious political purpose of blunting cover-up suspicions, the government released a redacted version of the advice it received from Douglas Mendes SC. In essence, the advice revealed that in different ways the committee had not met its obligation to give Smith a fair opportunity to respond to criticisms of him that were likely to appear in a publicly available report.

Photo: PNM supporters celebrate their 2007 General Elections victory.
(Copyright Pedro Rey/AFP 2015)

Reference was made to Salmon letters. It may be useful to explain what such a letter is. This letter is the one that is sent out by a public enquiry to provide the fair opportunity described above. The aim of the letter is also to give a person a chance to prepare for his likely exposure. It is called a Salmon letter because an English Law Lord, Baron Salmon, crystalised the use of those letters.

What is sad about this latest inquiry fiasco is that the bigger issue of standards for holding public office are once again subject to the claim that the other side did it too. That claim reached the political platform in this case in the form of a shoddy question of who run more woman and man than who?

Smith remains in the pink of health with his party. He, in PNM red, and others in the glens of Siparia in UNC yellow, will stay in salmon pink health with their respective parties because the PNM troops in red and the UNC troops in yellow will duck the broader issue of standards in public life. Their shoddy talk will further damage integrity in public life. But do the picongistas care?

The Minister of National Security Stuart Young, however, could not duck the rampant murders anymore. He had to tell the truth to try and get further bail restrictions through the parliament. He did this while his leader was ducking the murder horrors, saying that only parasitic elites ill-speak the country, which is on the up-and-up. This claim is way off the mark if you are of the many grieving ordinary citizens crying out for justice for murdered loved ones.

Young’s truth, which is an old truth previously callously denied, was that ‘murder rates are at risk of running away’; but our murder rates ran ahead of and trampled civilised living a long time ago.

Photo: Police Commissioner Gary Griffith (right) and National Security Minister Stuart Young.
(Copyright Ministry of National Security)

Moreover, we do not need to see intelligence reports about automatic weapons as a stimulant to fear. Citizens are frightened even to go to a shopping mall, and many women have long been under self-imposed curfews.

On Wednesday last, I watched the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, headed by the chief justice, lose another case arising out of the Marcia Ayers-Caesar debacle and other allegations about the chief justice. The appeal before the privy council seeking to have the chief justice duck being cross-examined was so hopeless that the opposing lawyers did not even have to talk

These shaky attempted defences of embattled public officials are also seriously damaging the country’s reputation. They are wholly inconsistent with the spin that we are ‘building a new society’.

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About Martin Daly

Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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