Assembly of Southern Lawyers wants Independent Committee to oversee award of silk

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Assembly of Southern Lawyers wants Independent Committee to oversee award of silk

President of the Assembly of Southern Lawyers (ASL) Saira Lakhan, is calling for an independent committee to be set up to recommend attorneys for the award of senior counsel status, also known as “silk”.

SHe said such a committee will ensure a transparent procedure is in place.

Lakhan added that this was needed so that people will not draw the conclusion that appointments were based on political patronage.

Thirteen lawyers were yesterday conferred the rank of senior counsel by President Christine Kangaloo.

This follows the award of silk to poliitcal figures who are also attorneys, among them; Minister of Rural Development and Local Government Faris Al-Rawi, Minister of Energy Stuart Young, Port of Spain South Member of Parliament Keith Scotland and former attorney general under the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) Anthony Smart.

Lakhan said in a statement from the ASL, “An independent panel should be implemented forthwith with the appointment of senior counsel in Trinidad and Tobago…The ASL has taken notice of the lawyers appointed to the rank of senior counsel and we wish to take this opportunity to call upon the State to implement legislation to establish an independent committee to recommend attorneys-at-law to be awarded the rank of senior counsel.”

Lakhan stated, “When multiple attorneys at law who are career politicians were elevated to the rank of senior counsel, both today and in the past, it is prudent to have an independent panel to review the applications made and to recommend appointments based on merit so as not to cause the reasonable person to draw the conclusions that appointments were made based on political patronage whilst neglecting to recognise members of the Bar who were deserving of such as elevation.

“This is especially relevant in circumstances where senior attorneys-at-law with decades of practice in all of the courts in Trinidad and Tobago and who were involved in landmark judgments are being overlooked continuously without reason and when other attorneys are appointed to the rank of senior counsel have less experience and skill than the senior attorneys who are overlooked.”

Lakhan said the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago, at a 2012 special general meeting, mandated the appointment of a committee of its members to consider whether the rank of senior counsel should be retained.

This Silk Committee produced the “Silk Report”, she stated.

This report and the recommendations of the general council of LATT were circulated to the membership in 2015. After comments were received, LATT passed a resolution that the recommendations of the Silk Committee be adopted, the ASL statement noted.

The recommendations included that the rank of senior counsel be retained and the award be granted by the President of this country on the recommendation of an independent panel comprising the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, judges from the civil and criminal courts and the Court of Appeal and three senior counsel.

It also said that LATT would make the procedures, rules and regulations for consideration in awarding silk.

The resolution was conveyed to the President, the Chief Justice and the Attorney General and a call was made for its immediate implementation.

The Silk Report was forwarded by then-president of LATT and current Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, to then-attorney general Faris Al-Rawi and the Chief Justice.

Armour also called for a meeting on the issue, the statement from Lakhan and the ASL said.

Lakhan said that, to date, despite numerous efforts by previous presidents of LATT to persuade the Government to accept and implement the recommendations of the Silk Report, no changes have been made.

She said, “LATT has been consistent in its advocacy for the establishment of an independent panel chaired by the Chief Justice to make recommendations for the appointment of silk because that would achieve greater transparency and accountability in the process for the appointment of attorneys at law to the rank of senior counsel.”

She added, “The time is ripe for change. The current system allows for dubious aspersions to be cast by the public on award of senior counsel being made based on nepotism, political patronage and political bias as opposed to award being made purely on merit based on the recommendations of an independent panel.”

She said the appointment of senior counsel has been enforced in this country for the past 50 years with the only difference existing before Independence and since Independence the advice is now given by the executive government to the President and King’s Counsel and Queen’s Counsel have been replaced with the rank of senior counsel.

“After half a century, there is no reason why an independent panel cannot be created by legislation and why it cannot be constituted forthwith to comprise of our peers to ensure that a transparent and meritorious procedure is in place for the appointment of senior counsel. In Trinidad and Tobago, far too often we lag behind in implementing transparent systems in place when it is needed.”

She said organised systems from other countries including the United Kingdom, Jamaica, and India can be used when implementing the independent panel in this country.