Monday, September 20, 2010


Justice Herbert Volney's diatribe against the Chief Justice (CJ) last week was wrong on so many levels that it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps the best starting place would be the question of whether or not the Chief Justice was wasting tax payers money by renting a supergrade house in Goodwood Park. The answer to this is simple: he is entitled to it. If Mr. Volney wants to debate whether or not a Chief Justice should be entitled to a luxury house at State expense, that is another matter. I, for one, would argue that the Chief Justice of Trinidad and Tobago should have a supergrade house. He is, after all, the Chief Justice, and his office should carry with it a certain social status for reasons that hopefully are obvious.

Mr. Volney spoke about the two former Chief Justices living in their own homes, and questioned why the present Chief Justice wasn't doing that. The implication was that somehow this was wrong of Chief Justice Archie not to do as his predeccessors had done. Again, this should not need defending. The present CJ has decided not to live in his house but to live in a State house. He has decided not to collect the tax free housing allowance but to occupy a State house instead. If his predeccessors had done this (i.e., occupy a State house) and Mr. Archie had decided that he was not going to do that but collect the money instead, one rather gets the impression that the former Judge would say that this was wrong. In other words, its heads Mr. Archie loses, and tails he loses again.

And while the reasons that the last two CJ's did this (lived in their own homes) do not need to be discussed at this time, the fact is that they both had very good and legitimate reasons for doing so. Put another way, it was to their personal advantage to do so ... and nothing is wrong with that!

Of probably greater interest though is what will the Prime Minister do about this imbroglio. Mr. Volney has obviously deeply offended the sitting Chief Justice. Mr. Archie has shown commendable restraint so far, but he must be highly annoyed. And Mr. Volney is the Minister whose mandate requires that he deal with the Judiciary on a plethora of matters. How is that going to work? You are going to have two men, who clearly do not like each other, having to deal with each other on a regular basis. The Prime Minister has sought to put a band aid on the problem by saying that the views expressed ny the former Judge were his own personal views and not those of her Government. But surely this cannot be good enough? Mr. Volney has seriously defamed the present Chief Justice and is refusing to apologise. Mr. Volney has also breached the rules relating to Parliamentary privilege. Frankly, the PNM Opposition (if they were on the ball ... which they are not) should report the former Judge to the Privileges Committee of Parliament. Unfortunately, that Committee is always stacked with Government M.P.'s so it is most unlikely that Mr. Volney will be dealt with in a proper manner.In other words, he will probably get off. But the report should be made, for the attack was most certainly a breach of Parliamentary privilege.

The Prime Minister is on the horns of a very obvious dilemma: What Mr. Volney did should result in the very least of his being moved from that Ministry. But the firing of a senior Cabinet Minister, or even a Cabinet re-shuffle so early in the game could result in all sorts of political trouble for the Prime Minister, not the least beimg having to deal with the accusation that her team is not a good one. It would be an admission that her judgement in appointing Mr.Volney to that post was flawed. In other words, Mr. Volney has put his Prime Minister in a very bad political position. I would strongly recommend to the former Judge that he start taking lessons in politics and how to behave as a senior Minister. What you can say in opposition is not always acceptable when you hold the reins of power. And finally, I will also give the Minister a piece of good advice: Be aware that the true opposition in the country will not come from the Opposition inside the Parliament; it will come from the people! And the people are not stupid. You have got a lot of goodwill ... still! But a few more unforced errors like this and you will blow it, not only for yourself, but for your entire team!!

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