Former Cayman solicitor general and current Trinidad and Tobago Chief Justice Ivor Archie’s attempt to stop an investigation into his conduct was struck down by the London-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on Thursday.
The case stems from several articles published by the Trinidad Express last year that alleged wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Archie.
According to the Privy Council’s judgment, the articles alleged that Mr. Archie tried to influence his fellow Supreme Court Justices to change their state-provided personal security to a private company associated with his “close friend” Dillian Johnson, who was reportedly a convicted felon.
The chief justice also allegedly tried to use his influence to fast-track Mr. Johnson’s application for a public housing unit.
The media reports led to the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago, known as LATT, announcing that it would open an inquiry into the allegations against Mr. Archie with the view to decide what actions to take, including whether to make a complaint to the country’s prime minister.
Mr. Archie filed a judicial review against LATT’s decision, arguing that Trinidad’s constitution stipulates that the prime minister is the only person who can advise the president to initiate a formal inquiry into the conduct of a member of the higher judiciary that might result in being removed from office.
The judicial review was initially successful in Trinidad’s High Court, but an appeals court ruled in the favor of LATT. The appeals court stated that the LATT is not a tribunal with powers to make sanctions, and is not subject to the constitutional rule that only the president can launch an inquiry.
At the Privy Council hearing on July 23, Mr. Archie’s attorney, Philip Havers, QC, accepted that LATT can investigate allegations of wrongdoing made against legal officers.
“However, argues Mr. Havers, the position here is quite different,” wrote the Privy Council in its judgment. “That investigation is a formal affair. And, as the public announcements show, the object is not simply to enable it to decide whether to make a complaint to the Prime Minister. It is to find out the facts.”
Mr. Havers argued that this has the potential to mislead the public as to the role of the LATT and the weight to be attached to its findings.
The attorney also argued that it has the potential to make the task of any future tribunal more difficult – for example, if witnesses have been rehearsed in their evidence.
Mr. Havers added that if the LATT’s conclusions on the facts are published, there would be widespread media coverage and pressure on the chief justice to resign – undermining his constitutional protections.
Arguments not accepted
But the Privy Council did not accept these arguments.
“The short answer to all [of Mr. Havers’s] points is that the LATT is in no position to make findings of fact which are in any way binding upon the Chief Justice or upon any tribunal which might be established under [Trinidad’s constitution],” the Privy Council stated.
“It follows that each of the grounds of appeal relied upon by the Chief Justice must be rejected and that this appeal is dismissed. The injunction [granted by the Court of Appeal when giving final leave to appeal on June 11, 2018], which restrained the LATT from convening a meeting of its membership to consider any legal advice it might receive in relation to its inquiry and/or investigation of the Chief Justice until this appeal is heard and determined, is discharged.”
According to his biography on the Trinidad Judiciary’s website, Mr. Archie served as solicitor general of the Cayman Islands, and acted as the territory’s attorney general on a number of occasions during the 1990s. He returned to Trinidad in 1998.