Female Attorney-at-Law, Celia Clyne-Edwards Q. C. has accused Legal Affairs Minister, Elvin Nimrod of misleading the Grenadian people when he said that the backlog of court matters has been addressed under the Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening (JURIST) project, which was piloted in the country last year.
Minister Nimrod told last week Tuesday’s post-Cabinet Press briefing that the JURIST project yielded success, noting that “there were 173 cases pending there in the court (and) of the 173, 166 were successfully completed under this project (and) some 96% in terms of success.”
However, Clyne-Edwards who publicly commended the judges for their commitment towards the JURIST project, said there are a number of judgments still outstanding.
Speaking on behalf of the Inner Bar at a special sitting of the High Court to mark the opening of the 2016/2017 Law Year on Tuesday, the female attorney said “there is a backlog of over 100 civil cases waiting for trial dates to be tried.”
“So when the Honourable Minister goes in public and says that the backlog has been addressed that is misleading. Only a very small dent has been made in the back log of civil matters waiting for trial,” she told the court.
Clyne-Edwards also used the opportunity to urge her colleagues to “take steps to ensure that the profession as a whole and the younger members, who look to us (senior members) for guidance, uphold the principles, responsibilities, and the ethics of this honourable profession”.
This is a clear reference to allegations that some members of the local bar have been accepting retainer fees from clients and not providing them with adequate representation in court matters.
According to Clyne-Edwards, it is incumbent upon the senior lawyers “to protect the profession and the junior members from unjustified and unwarranted attempts to besmear the collective name”.
She noted that “the Legal Profession Act, (which) was passed in 2011 (and) is designed to regulate the profession, deals with matters from setting out the procedures for admission to the Bar to providing for the disciplinary procedures in respect to recalcitrant members of the profession (which) is to be overseen by a committee of persons who can act in an independent and fair manner”.
Attorney Edwards Q.C. also took issue with statements made by Minister Nimrod in relation to the recent appointment of the 7-member committee, of which she is a member.
She pointed out that “for years the legal profession requested of government that a Legal Profession Act be passed, to no avail”.
“The legal profession held seminars even on Saturdays to fine tune the provisions that we deemed (to) be necessary for inclusion in that act in order to guide the parliamentarians…”, she said.
“…We submitted draft acts to the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). Due to the persistence and the tenacity of the Bar and efforts of persons such as Messrs Ruggles Ferguson, Rohan Phillip and James Bristol, the government saw it fit in 2011 to finally pass the Act and a Legal Council was in fact appointed”, she added.
It was the National Democratic Congress (NDC) of former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas that gave legal effect to the Legal Council.
The Female QC also told the sitting that due to certain development the body was unable to function.
She said, “before they (the council) could have effectively commenced, a member died…another council was constituted but before they could effectively commence their work, the Chairman who must be a person who has held judicial office was reassigned. Another council is now in place and has commenced function.
“But for the Minister of Legal Affairs in 2016 to proclaim that because of the numerous complaints received against lawyers, government had to finally appoint a committee to deal with the behaviour of lawyers could only be described as misleading the public,” she added.
THE NEW TODAY understands that the current government was responsible for filling the void created by the departure of female high court judge, Justice Margaret Price-Findlay from the jurisdiction but was slow in acting.
According to QC Clyne-Edwards, “the impression created (by Minster Nimrod’s statements) is that the profession is now so unruly that the administration has seen it fit to unleash its pack of bulldogs on the profession in order to keep it in line.”
“Well I am a member of that committee and I am nobody’s bulldog,” she declared.
“It is wrong for the Honourable Minister to play politics with an important body as the General Legal Council,” she said.
The top female attorney issued a word of caution to younger members of the bar to engage in “self discipline” in order to guard and protect the legal profession.
“We know what our duties and responsibilities are (and) what is expected of us. Do it. Put aside the petty undermining of each other, the older practitioners bad talking the younger ones and the younger ones not being able to participate in activities because they feel ostracised by the older ones …”, she said.
“…When we close our file and say may it please the court, we are colleagues. Let us keep it so and where it is not so return it to that state”, she added.
QC Clyne-Edwards got support in her statements refuting the claims of Deputy Prime Minister Nimrod by the current President of the Grenada Bar Association, Anande Trotman-Joseph.
The Guyanese-born attorney reminded Minister Nimrod that it was the Grenada bar, as a constituent member of the OECS Bar, which through 15 years of advocating and lobbying sought to have the Government of Grenada pass the Legal Profession Act.
“…We are proud that due to our efforts (and) because of the collective lobby of the OECS Bar Associations, we have lived to see that reality,” she said.
“No, we do not like the tarred brush that the Minister (Nimrod) has indeed tried to paint us with”, she added.
Trotman-Joseph, whose husband is also an attorney and influential player in the ruling New National Party (NNP) administration, offered an explanation of what Nimrod might have been trying to say in his remarks.
She said, “we know in fact the Minister is one of us” and that maybe what “he (Minister Nimrod) merely meant to say is that “the Attorney General as leader of the Bar, indeed will be upholding zero tolerance against any form or fashion (of) corruption in our midst.”