Today the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council delivered judgment in the appeal of Steve Ferguson and others v The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago, infamously known by the general public as “ The Section 34 Case”.
The appeals were dismissed by a unanimous decision of all five Law Lords with the judgment being delivered by Lord Sumption.
The ruling upholds the ruling of the local courts in favour of the State when the People’s Partnership (P.P) was in office. It is a clear vindication of the decision which was immediately taken to repeal section 34. The judgment highlights the swift action taken by the then government to convene the Parliament on an emergency basis to repeal a law that was unanimously passed with the support of all Members of Parliament with the noble intention of improving the system of criminal justice.
This decision of the Privy Council represents a victory for the rule of law and the Constitution. The decision affirms the supremacy and power of parliament. The effect of this decision is that the State’s right to prosecute those persons who may have benefitted from section 34 in its original form has now been preserved.
Specific reference was made in the judgment to the role of the members of the Peoples Partnership government with particular reference to the then Attorney General Anand Ramlogan (who personally gave evidence on behalf of the State) and, the Prime Minister. As noted in paragraph 9 of the judgment, “On the same day, the Attorney General called the Prime Minister and told her that in his opinion section 34 should be repealed urgently”. The Privy Council also expressed the view that the Amendment Act was not targeted at the Appellants and the actions of the Parliament did not contravene the separation of powers.
This decision puts to rest, by a judgment of our highest Court, the criticisms of the then Opposition of the actions of the PP government. The reasons behind the passing of section 34 in its original incarnation remain valid. The legality and constitutionality of the action of the government I led in passing the repeal legislation has been tested and affirmed at each level of our judicial system. This judgment is a resounding victory for the Peoples Partnership Government which was the subject of much vilification and political attack by those who were bent on political exploitation of what was a Constitutional crisis which was created with their active participation and support in Parliament.
My Administration stands vindicated by this Judgment. Swift remedial action was taken which effectively nullified any unintended consequences and benefits that would have operated to the detriment of the Criminal Justice System. We had convened a powerful legal team lead by Lord Pannick QC and Allan Newman QC which resulted in legal victory at the High Court and the Court of Appeal. An equally powerful team was retained for the Privy Council Appeal and it is significant that the Privy Council upheld the decision given by our Local Courts.
In the final analysis, truth and justice have prevailed. Our political detractors who voted together with us to pass Section 34 and then laid the blame at the feet of the PP Administration will no doubt continue to make malicious allegations. This is however, a resounding victory for the Rule of Law and justice has prevailed. Due process must now be followed so that justice can be done according to law.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP,
Leader of the Opposition of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago