Court mulling over Auditor General appeal

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Court mulling over Auditor General appeal

More time!
That’s what the Court of Appeal judges need in order to decide on the appeal from Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass over the premature dismissal of her lawsuit over an ongoing probe into the débâcle between her and officials from the Ministry of Finance. 

Appellate Judges Mark Mohammed, Peter Rajkumar, and James Aboud reserved their decision yesterday in order to consider the case after hearing lengthy submissions during a hearing at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain.

“We will try our best to deliver in a reasonable time but we have a lot to consider,” Rajkumar said. 

While the Appeal Court mulls over the case, the Cabinet-appointed investigative committee led by retired judge David Harris can continue its work, albeit not in relation to part of its terms of reference related to Ramdass and her office. 

During the hearing, senior counsel Douglas Mendes, who led the legal team for Finance Minister Colm Imbert and his Cabinet colleagues, indicated that the committee had already agreed that it would miss its July 5 deadline for submitting its report as the eventual outcome of the appeal would determine whether their work can include Ramdass as initially envisaged.

In the appeal, Ramdass’ lawyers, led by Anand Ramlogan, SC, are contending that High Court Judge Westmin James erred in finding that Ramdass did not have an arguable case with a realistic prospect of success at an eventual trial. 

Ramlogan maintained that the probe infringed the independence of his client’s office under the Constitution. 

“It is a prelude to something else,” he said, as he suggested that it may be the precursor for disciplinary action. 

Ramlogan suggested that Imbert’s involvement in helping to appoint the investigative team tainted the entire investigation. 

“The proposition that there is no bias is illogical,” Ramlogan said. 

In his submissions, Mendes stated that Justice James’ decision could not be faulted. 

He noted that the decision was based on an established legal precedent in a case brought by Chief Justice Ivor Archie after the Law Association initiated a probe against him several years ago. 

In that case, the Privy Council ruled that the association’s probe was lawful although the Constitution prescribes a specific process for probing and disciplining judges. 

Mendes suggested that the findings in the case directly applied to Ramdass. 

“You can remove Chief Justice and replace it with Auditor General,” he said.  

He also noted that Imbert could not be accused of bias as he would have had to know what transpired to direct the investigation and ultimately take corrective action to avoid a recurrence. 

Mendes suggested that if the appeal panel felt that Justice James mishandled the case, it should determine the legal issues instead of remitting the case for it to go to trial. 

He said that the approach would save time as it was likely that the substantive case would yield an appeal if it is allowed to proceed. 

The dispute between Ramdass and ministry officials arose in April after they sought to deliver amended public accounts, in a bid to explain a reported $2.6 billion underestimation in revenue. 

Imbert repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. 

(photo courtesy GML)