New 'silk' list sparks debate on process

Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - 07:15

As Government considers the list of nominees to be bestowed with the title of senior counsel, some senior legal practitioners are again questioning the political process of making the appointments.

Several attorneys, who spoke to Guardian Media, criticised the existing scheme, in which the selections are essentially made by the Government.

Under the process, attorneys who have been practising for over ten years are allowed to submit applications to the Office of the Attorney General. The AG’s Office compiles a list that is then forwarded to the Prime Minister. The Prime

Minister then consults with the Chief Justice, Law Association and Criminal Bar Association before advising the President, of the Government’s nominees to be appointed.

In a brief interview, Senior Counsel Israel Khan claimed that the process should be free of political influence.

Khan said: “To avoid criticism that the appointment is because of your political affiliation, it should really be done by an independent committee.”

Stating that criteria for appointments are generally based on merit, ability and integrity, Khan suggested that the Government should place special emphasis on integrity when making its selections.

“The most important quality at this point in time, in the history of our profession, is integrity, especially considering the allegations being made against lawyers,” Khan said.

Guardian Media understands that the AG’s Office has already forwarded a list of four candidates to be appointed before the opening of the 2018/2019 law term in September, to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

The candidates include two civil attorneys, a criminal defence attorney and one that practices extensively in the Family Court.

Contacted yesterday, one attorney who applied and did not make the cut, said he was not surprised because of his political affiliation.

“I know it is political, so I am not shocked. Everyone says that I deserve it but I already know I would have to wait until after 2020,” he said.

Another attorney, who stated he was not affiliated with any political party, said he was unfazed but still disappointed in the system as it fails to fully recognise professional achievements.

“I am not bothered. I will continue to represent my clients to the best of my ability. Maybe one day I would be recognised by the Government of the day,” he said.

The issue of the Government’s picks was also raised by former agriculture minister Devant Maharaj in a press release issued last week.

Maharaj said: “Questions raised within the legal fraternity in hushed tones already about its merits. It was noticeable that some of the few deserving of silk were not included in this year’s silk list and were apparently denied because of the fact that they are not aligned with the PNM.”

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The issue of the appointment of silk has been marred by controversy since it was first awarded in 1964.

The only recorded policy over the appointments came in a legal notice, which was published in the Gazette in November 2000.

The notice prescribes several requirements including total professional integrity, professional eminence, sound intellectual ability, outstanding advocate ability and maturity of judgment.

The last time it was awarded was in December 2011, when 14 attorneys including then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and attorney general Anand Ramlogan were appointed.

Source: (Derek Achong)