Before I get into the main topic, I discovered something while researching this piece that is as interesting as it is perplexing, and that is the fact that Stuart Young was not issued a certificate to practice law in Trinidad and Tobago for the 2021-2022 law term, and at least for the previous term (please see the full list attached). And the reason this is confusing is that for some reason Mr. Young continues to serve in the capacity of Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs despite not having this fact, but more so, is that in June of this year Mr. Young was made to act in the substantive role for a period of time that Mr. Reginald Armour was out of the country. What this means is that for a period of time, the Office of the Attorney General of this country was headed by someone who could not practice law, and could not represent the government or the people of this country in any official judicial capacity. This might be the reason why the Piarco brief that is before the courts in Miami had to be handed to Faris Al-Rawi, who is no longer affiliated with the Attorney General’s office, but given that the current AG was barred from the bench of those proceedings, his Junior Minister would have been the obvious choice to replace him, except that he cannot less he creates a far greater blunder than Mr. Armour already did. And I wonder how much this must be costing taxpayers now that the government has to hire a former Attorney General to represent the state in this matter because the two Ministers in that Ministry are unable to perform the duties which they swore to discharge.
While presenting her speech to commemorate the opening of the 2019-2020 law term, Prof. Rose-Marie Belle Antoine revealed that lawyer’s fees in this country appeared to not only be overpriced but also might have been the highest of any country in the region. According to Prof. Antoine, the reason for the high rate of legal fees appeared to stem from the tradition of requiring attorneys of several tiers, senior, junior, instructing, etc, to represent a client in a judicial matter, thereby justifying compounded fees. Because of this, it was Prof. Antoine’s opinion that this practice is pricing individuals out of getting deserved justice if they were in fact unable to secure the funds necessary to facilitate a favorable verdict. It should be noted that despite the fact that Prof. Antoine is recognized as one of the most distinguished members of the legal fraternity, and is both an Oxford and Cambridge scholar in the legal field, with over thirty years of professional legal experience, she has not yet been presented with the title of Senior Counsel, which no one in their right mind could argue she doesn’t deserve.
Unlike the title of Queen’s Counsel, which is awarded to barristers and solicitors in the U.K. with over fifteen years of experience, and only requires that they apply for the distinction and then undergo an assessment of their core competencies and understanding of the law to be presented with the silk. Between 1995 and 2021, of the 291 solicitors who applied for the title of Queen’s Counsel, 63 were successful and were conferred with their silk. It should also be noted that successful candidates in the U.K. are announced annually, which encourages all eligible solicitors and barristers to apply with reasonable hope that they would be selected for the honor.
When former President Maxwell Richards conferred the title of Senior Counsel onto 16 candidates in 2011, he noted the ceremony was overdue as a result of the passing of several members of the inner circle which necessitated more frequent appointments to fill the vacant positions, as well as to reward long-serving, and deserving members of the fraternity. These sentiments were echoed by the former President of the Law Association in 2018 during the conferment ceremony of 3 additional Senior Counsels, during the only swearing-in ceremony to take place since 2011.
This brings me to the insulting and atrocious statements being made by Israel Khan, a once-respected attorney who seems hellbent on turning himself into the Rudy Giuliani of this country with his vapid and ignorant tirades. His recent attack on Mr. Kamla Persad Bissessar comes across as so wholly malevolent, that one has to wonder whether he has been holding it in since 2011, and waiting patiently for an opportunity where making those types of statements appears justified in his own mind. Moreover, the fact that in the same breath that he is calling for Mrs. Persad Bissessar to return his silk, he is lauding the Attorney General, Reginald Armour, a man who he claims “possesses the merit, ability and integrity of an honourable member of the Inner bar,” despite the fact that he was recently barred from taking part in the Court trial involving the Piarco airport.
That said if Israel Khan is so opposed to the notion of persons being conferred the title of Senior Counsel while in Political Office, I have to wonder if he has the same level of contempt for John Jeremie, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, and the late Karl Hudson-Phillips, who were all given silk while they occupied the Office of the Attorney General. In fact, during the 2011 ceremony, other office holders who were awarded the distinction included the then Chief Justice, Director of Public Prosecution, Solicitor General, Chief Parliamentary Counsel, and an Appeal Court Judge. To suggest that any of these individuals with their lengthy legal resumés and service to this country are unworthy of this distinction is a slap in the face to anyone who chooses to enter into public office in lieu of the hefty fees they could accrue in the private sector, and Israel Khan should be ashamed to be making these types of insinuations.
Kamla Persad Bissessar has a B.A., LL.B., and DipEd in Law and has served this country as an Attorney General, Minister of Legal Affairs, and Prime Minister, during which time she has crafted and piloted many pieces of legislation on which this modern nation now stands. With over four decades of legal experience under her belt, there is no one more deserving of the title of Senior Counsel than Mrs. Persad Bissessar, and the fact that she has forgone legal battles in the courtroom for legislative battles in the Parliament should not be an impediment for achieving the recognition and distinction she deserves. Truth be told if Israel Khan was more focussed on pressuring the PNM government to nominate more conferments, as they should have been doing consistently throughout the past decades, then I have no doubt that Mrs. Persad Bissessar would have been awarded the title prior to 2011 without question or controversy. Instead, Israel Khan comes across as an elitist and the type of government sympathizer whom Mrs. Persad Bissessar has recently been criticizing for protecting their own interests above those of the citizens. It appears that not only is Israel Khan desperately scrounging for food to eat, but he is also greedy enough to restrict those who can dine from the Senior Counsel’s plate.
Ravi Balgobin Maharaj