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Raffique Shah


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The law is an ass

By Raffique Shah
May 24, 2015

If the adage "the law is an ass" is held to be true-and over the years, I have heard eminent persons, many of them lawyers, cite it as gospel-then I must confess that some very senior attorneys in this country are confusing me to the point where I am beginning to think that I am an ass, or they are a pack of donkeys.

Hear me out, eh, before you ask me to stop braying.

In its ruling on the so-called "emailgate" affair, the Integrity Commission, or more accurately three members of the commission, the chairman being a former appeal court judge, hence a lawyer with decades of experience, wrote to counsel for the Prime Minister, another lawyer who has practised for many years, informing him that the Commission had terminated the investigations because it found "no or insufficient grounds to continue the probe".

Upon hearing the Trinidad-shattering pronouncement, which immediately prompted the PM to claim a "major victory", I did a double-take: how could commissioners with the collective wisdom one assumes resides in such an august body, find "no or insufficient" grounds?

My limited knowledge of the English language suggests that in such matters, you either have "no grounds" or "insufficient grounds": you cannot have both. If you have "no" grounds, then there was nothing to probe in the first place. If you had "insufficient" grounds, then there were some issues that might be probed, but not enough to warrant the commissioners’ valuable time.

I must have been the only person who thought there was some contradiction in the terminology, maybe even in the substance. In which case I am the donkey.

The confusion did not end there, though.

Forget the PM claiming yet another victory, like Wellington at Waterloo 200 years ago. Our PM was once, twice, three times a victor in three elections back in 2013, although the records show otherwise. In fact, in the said "Emailgate" matter, she had claimed another victory a week before...until the Deputy DPP, stepping way out of her crease, said, "Shut up!"

As I was saying, the confusion continued. Before the PM could savour her celebratory drink, the deputy chairman of the IC, retired Justice Sebastian Ventour, informed the public that he had walked out of the meeting because he had serious disagreements with the course it was taking, and further, he was shocked at the contents of the official statement made by his colleagues. He resigned.

To further confuse this donkey, another Commissioner, Dr Shelly-Anne Lalchan, also tendered her resignation, although it remains unclear whether she had done so before, during or after the meeting.

In the circumstances, it seems that three commissioners made the "no or insufficient grounds" decision – Hosein, Pete London and Deonarine Jaggernauth. Everyone agreed that the three formed a quorum, hence the decision was lawful and binding.

Hear confusion: while three commissioners constitute a quorum, the Integrity in Public Life Act specifies that there must be five members for the body to lawfully exist. So last Tuesday, before the resignations of Ventour and Lalchan, the already fractured Commission could and did make a decision of national import.

But two days later, Chairman Hosein, when questioned about the implosion, told reporters: "I am unable to answer any questions because the Integrity Commission is not constituted." In other words, legally, it does not exist.

Meanwhile, as reporters tracked Hosein in a bid to make sense out of nonsense, the ex-jurist claimed that he was being "hounded". Apparently, they tried to corner him as he attended "Juma" prayers at a mosque. His Muslim brethren were very upset, he said.

Not to be outdone, Senior Counsel Israel Khan, the PM’s attorney, told reporters that the fact that Hosein had worked in his chambers had nothing to do with the commission’s statement. I’m surprised that journalists even posed that question – Khan gave them good: "The man worked in this chamber but he is a man of impeccable integrity and character..."

Now, for umpteenth time since the commission came into being, the President will go head-hunting for two persons "of integrity and high standing", as the act specifies. Or maybe President Carmona will take into consideration the acidic remarks of Mr Ventour, scrap what remains of the existing commission, and seek out five other persons of integrity, at least one of whom must be a lawyer with at least ten years’ service.

I wish him luck. I also wonder why he would even bother to re-constitute the commission. Look at it this way: with the greatest deference to the good men and women who have served on this body since it was established in the year 2000, what has it achieved except for piling up mountains of declarations by hundreds, maybe thousands of public officials, all of whom have been and/or are persons of impeccable integrity.

Well, for all the allegations of corruption during that time, and before, how many have been charged with corruption? Less than a handful. How many have been convicted? None! How many more ignore their obligations to file returns to the IC every year they serve in public offices? Hundreds! What has the commission done about that? Nothing.

See why I insist the law is an ass?

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