In an unprecedented move, the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government has identified two lawyers from the private bar who should be made Queen’s Counsel.
Well-placed sources told THE NEW TODAY newspaper that the names of the lawyers who operate law firms in the city were presented at Monday’s weekly meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers.
According to a Cabinet insider, Attorney-General, Cajeton Hood who attended the meeting urged the administration to be cautious in the manner in which it was seeking to get QC status for the two attorneys-at-law.
He said that as he looked around the room it was clear that some members of Cabinet appeared to be uneasy about the submission but as usual were too afraid to openly oppose it.
It is alleged that the submission to the Cabinet was made by Prime Minister Mitchell himself and not as expected from the Office of Legal Affairs Minister, Elvin Nimrod.
The source said that based on the Cabinet decision, Nimrod was mandated to meet with the Grenada Bar Association (GBA) to inform them of the decision taken to award “silk” to the two attorneys in private practice.
According to the source, he discussed the issue after the meeting with another Cabinet colleague and the feeling is that the administration runs the risk of being accused of trying to influence the judiciary on matters which fall totally within its domain.
He pointed to an opinion from Solicitor-General, Dwight Horsford in which he suggested that government can make recommendation for an attorney within the public service like the Attorney-General, Solicitor-General or Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to be designated QC status but not one in private practice.
He stressed that there is an established “proper channel” for lawyers in private practice to be selected for QC status.
He referred to the Silk Committee established by the OECS Court system as the body to be used to vet all lawyers from the private bar that is seeking to be elevated to QC status.
The Cabinet source told this newspaper that PM Mitchell might have rejected the advice of AG Hood and Horsford in favour of the position being advanced by another advisor who is said to be a non-national.
When contacted for comment on the issue, a member of the local bar said the move can be considered as “highly unethical” as the Cabinet might be seeking to usurp the powers of the Judiciary in the granting of QC status to lawyers in private practice.
“There is a procedure. Cabinet is not where it starts. In fact, they are at the end of the process, certainly not the beginning”, he said.
The Cabinet source also dropped hints that the Mitchell-led government could be seen as discriminating against members of the private bar by tying to appoint these two lawyers as QC in light of the number of lawyers who have already applied for QC status ahead of them and still waiting in line.
He spoke of attorney-at-law, Alban John whose application is currently pending.
Legal sources told this newspaper that the NNP regime recently blocked the applications of former Attorney-General, Jimmy Bristol and leading criminal defense attorney, Anselm Clouden to be given QC status.
A source said that in the case of Bristol it was “ridiculous” as his application was approved by the Chief Justice of the OECS court in keeping with the correct procedures.
“The CJ had given the OK to Jimmy’s application and it just had to be sent to the government for them to forward it to the Queen for final approval. Well that is where it reached – they never sent it up to the Queen. How do you think Jimmy will feel?
The source said that this move by the government to identify two lawyers in private practise for QC status could pave the way for Bristol to take court action regarding his own application to be admitted into the “Inner Bar” which was approved by the Chief Justice and blocked by government.
He also expressed the view that the two lawyers identified by government should be sensible enough and have the decency not to accept the nomination in this way particularly in light of the open “violation” by the regime of the established protocol for QC status.
Among the procedure is consultation with local QC’s on whether those being recommended for elevation in the profession are sufficiently knowledgeable and versed in the law as part of the test.
Two of the most prominent QC’s on the island are former Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney-General Dr. Francis Alexis and former island scholar, Celica Clyne-Edwards.