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Confusion among lawyers over ‘silk’

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The process used to select lawyers to become members of this country’s inner bar is “arbitrary and unfair,” Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, the president of the Law Association of T&T has said.

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Mendes is now seeking an urgent meeting with Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi to discuss the matter with the hope of making the process more “transparent”.

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Mendes made the statement in a letter dated July 6 to Al-Rawi

Last Friday attorneys Ian Benjamin, Ruth Van Lare, and Kemrajh Harrikissoon were appointed senior counsel by President Paula Mae Weekes during a ceremony held at President‘s Cottage, Port-of-Spain

Mendes said while he and the Law Association‘s Vice President Rajiv Persad were asked in their “personal capacities” about their opinions on the appointments, the “views of the representative body of the legal profession” was not officially sought

Mendes said previous correspondence from himself and his predecessors as head of the Law Association had been sent to Al-Rawi on the issue of the appointment of ‘silk’

However, there has been no response from Al-Rawi to date, he said

“I refer in particular to the report of the Committee appointed by the Law Association to look into the established procedures for the appointment of members of the inner bar, and their recommendations. The Law Association has not yet had the benefit of your considered views,” he stated

Under the current system, senior counsel are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister

“There is no established or uniform requirement for notice to the profession that the appointment of silk is under consideration, for the making of applications, or for consultation among stakeholders,” Mendes said

“Although it must be obvious that the views of the representative body of legal profession must be an integral part of the process, I note that you preferred to canvass my views and that of the association’s vice president in our personal capacities only

“That consultation consisted of a brief conversation about the proposed candidates. I imagine you consulted other members of the profession and as is to be expected, you consulted the Chief Justice

“But I am sure you will agree with me that a process of appointment which consists of consultation with persons of your choosing cannot meet the basic standards of transparency and fairness.”

‘Process unfair’

Mendes said it was not fair that the future career of lawyers should be decided like this

“It is not fair that the future career of members of the profession should be determined or influenced by the views of unnamed persons received in secret, in the course of a process which was not announced to be in train, with the result that other members of the profession of demonstrated merit may not have been given the opportunity to throw their hat into the ring and be considered,” Mendes stated

“I have received complaints from a number of persons, who obviously are deserving of consideration, that they were not aware that appointments were under consideration and therefore were deprived of the opportunity to be considered. It is hard not to conclude that the system of appointments is arbitrary and unfair

“It is precisely because of criticisms of this sort which were previously levelled at the process, that the Law Association established the committee whose report has been with your office for nearly two years now,” he stated

Mendes said the committee’s report sort to address concerns about the process of selecting “silk”

“The system of appointments which the committee has proposed is designed to ensure participation among all stakeholders including the Government through your office and assigns the lead role to the head of the Judiciary, where it should be,” he stated

“The system proposed is transparent and fair and is designed to ensure that paramount importance is given to established criteria for appointment based primarily on merit.”

Mendes said with the need to address the replenishment of silk” it is “imperative that due consideration be given to the committee’s report and consensus reached on the way forward as a matter of urgency.”

This is not the first time the issue of awarding silk has caused some consternation, under the previous administration in 2012 then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and then attorney general Anand Ramlogan awarded themselves silk

Chief Justice Ivor Archie and another sitting judge Justice of Appeal Wendell Kangaloo eventually returned the instruments which granted them Senior Counsel status at that time following outrage

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