Daly Bread: Was AG looking for VAR? At least, Prime Minister responded sensibly

EPL Infrafred Sauna

As football fans know, VAR stands for Video Assistant Referee. This is the additional refereeing team that uses technology located immediately adjacent to the field of play to assist the match referee to review, when necessary, certain match-changing decisions.

These decisions include goals, penalties and direct red-card incidents.

Argentine referee Nestor Pitana looks at the VAR monitor during the World Cup final between France and Croatia in Moscow on 15 July 2018.
(Copyright Fifa/ Getty)

I thought of VAR as I observed the public responses of the Attorney General—whose credibility deficit has grown larger—to the Government’s defeat in the recent Privy Council (the PC) appeal.

On 18 May, the PC ruled against attempted legislative extension of the terms of local government councillors and aldermen.

As a result of the PC decision, the political ball went into the back of the Government’s net. It was analogous to an own goal. The AG squirmed and protested against the decision, trying to suggest that the ball never even crossed the line and that the offices now declared invalid were nevertheless not illegally held.

Was he looking to subject the PC decision to VAR? There is no VAR for a decision of the highest Court.

Attorney General Reginald Armour SC.
(Copyright Office of Parliament 2023)

On Wednesday last, Prime Minster Dr Keith Rowley told us in Parliament how the Government intended to pick the ball out of the Government’s net and to kick off and restart the local government cycle.

The Prime Minister’s approach was correct. The thrust of his statement in the Parliament suggested that he had brought on a substitute for AG Reginald Armour—because the Prime Minister accepted that there was now a problem with local government arrangements and that the surest way to fill it was to pass validating legislation and call the now overdue local government elections.

Some persons have commented on the intensity of the criticism of the Government’s wrong move to postpone the local government elections. The Prime Minister himself commented on “the decibels” above which his Government was providing “responsible” governance.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (right) and Attorney General Reginald Armour.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament)

Many think it obvious that it was AG Armour that provoked the decibels by “Armour’s spin”: as the Trinidad Express newspaper headline described his utterances.

The AG went so far as to warn against something “tantamount almost to a contempt of Court” being committed by anyone misrepresenting the PC judgment.

The Law Association succinctly made it plain in a media release on Tuesday last that even if commentary overstated or misinterpreted the decision of the PC that would not amount to a contempt of court.

It dismissed the loose talk of contempt of court on the elementary basis that “commentary on the instant decision cannot interfere with the already completed Privy Council matter and, therefore, cannot have the effect of interfering with the administration of justice”.

Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) president Douglas Mendes SC.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

I had not looked at Parliament live for a while because I am turned off by the dismissive attitudes and rasping voices of the Government as well as the uninspiring contribution of an unrefreshed and unattractive Opposition brand.

Last Wednesday’s sitting of Parliament was an occasion when the country was eagerly awaiting the Prime Minister’s statement on how the Government intended to respond to the defeat in the Privy Council and, in particular, whether it would stonewall on calling the now overdue local government elections.

Why on earth did the Opposition waste time calling a division on a vote to permit additional speaking time to the Prime Minister?

Leader of the Opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar (centre) prepares her troops for ‘war’ in Parliament during an extraordinary sitting of the House to vote on the impeachment of President Paula-Mae Weekes.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2021)

The Government has not yielded to any impulse to unduly delay the holding of those elections and has set the timetable within which they will be called. So let’s see what is in the validating legislation that the Prime Minister said is going to Parliament tomorrow.

It should validate what was done up to 18 May but it should treat with the subsequent period until the elections more narrowly. It should not permit new capital works to be undertaken subsequent to 18 May. Independent Senators take note.

As the Law Association put it: “the clear implications of the Privy Council ruling are that Government must call local government elections as soon as possible and must consider validating legislation to remedy any illegality that may have ensued as a result of the postponement of local government elections.”

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley fields questions from the media.
(Copyright AFP)

On this occasion, responsible opinion received consideration from the Government rather than being dismissed with the usual vilification.

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About Martin Daly

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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