A High Court judge is expected to rule on February 19, whether or not Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley breached his constitutional obligation when he refused a request from the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago( LATT) regarding the possible impeachment of the Chief Justice Ivor Archie.
Justice Vasheist Kokaram set the tentative date after hearing lengthy arguments on Tuesday.
Jamaican Queen Counsel Dr. Lloyd Barnett, representing the LATT, argued that Prime Minister Rowley, who in July last year, had refused the association’s request, fell short of his duty under Section 137 of the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution.
Under Section 137 (3) of the Constitution, Rowley has the power to advise President Paula-Mae Weekes to appoint a tribunal to investigate the allegations against Archie. The President can refer the question of whether a judge should be removed from office to the Judicial Committee.
Barnett said that Rowley had reached his decision based on the advice of British Queen Counsel, Howard Stevens, who had indicated that the LATT report on the issue lacked sufficient evidence to warrant impeachment proceedings against the Chief Justice.
“The Prime Minister had a specific duty to conduct a fair and impartial investigation,” The Jamaican lawyer said, noting also that Prime Minister Rowley had referred to the investigation as a political conspiracy.
Barnett also dismissed complaints regarding the process adopted by the LATT, noting it had been approved by both the Court of Appeal and the London-based Privy Council, which is the country’s highest court, when it dismissed the Chief Justice’s legal challenge.
But British Queen Counsel, Mark Strachan, leading Rowley’s legal team, questioned the strength of the allegations made against the Chief Justice that arose from a series of newspaper reports in 2017.
Media reports had linked Archie to discussing security arrangements for judges with a personal friend and was also accused of attempting to fast-track Housing Development Corporation (HDC) applications for various people.
Archie has denied discussing judges’ security but admitted to recommending people for housing.
“It was un-satisfactory and un-savoury, but didn’t warrant a referral,” Strachan, noting that his client had to consider whether the allegation constituted an error of judgement or serious mis conduct.
Senior Counsel Reginald Armour said Prime Minister Rowley has always been transparent in his handling of the issue.
“It was the political season,” Armour said, noting that Rowley’s comments were made during the campaign for last year’s Local Government elections.
Senior Counsel Ian Benjamin, who is representing the Chief Justice, said that the “allegations have been reduced to a point of nothingness,” adding that the treatment meted out to his client also affected all Supreme Court Judges.
Former attorney general, John Jeremie, who is also appearing for Chief Justice Archie, recalled that the last time Section 137 was invoked was 13 years ago with the failed impeachment of former chief justice, Satnarine Sharma.
Jeremie said that former prime minister Patrick Manning had had sought his advice on whether to trigger impeachment in that case.
“The lesson he (Rowley) would have learned is to exercise great care in matters involving the Judiciary,” Jeremie said, as he noted that Rowley was careful to obtain his legal advice from a foreign legal luminary, who could not be accused of bias.
Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein, who led the team for the Office of the Attorney General, said Prime Minister Rowley could not be expected to do further investigations as the LATT had already conducted a detailed report and was unable to find concrete evidence of mis-conduct.