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Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi responds to questions posed by the media following the opening ceremony of the Legal Aid and Advisory Head Office and Public Defender’s Department, Stanmore Avenue, Port-of-Spain yesterday.

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Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi yesterday heaped praises on chief public defender Hasine Shaik at the opening of the new offices of the Legal Aid and Advisory Head Office and Public Defender’s Department. He hailed the progress her department has made since her appointment on March 2.

“Our chief public defender has been in court for a long time already. She was the person taking 10s and 20s and 30s and 40s of people to court to have them brought out for early release under COVID matters. She is the person who has been supervising the management of our people who are entitled to early release on account of the amendments to the dangerous drugs act,” he said.

Al-Rawi explained that while the department is set to move into the Stanmore Avenue building tomorrow, they are up to date with their work.

“She has agreed fully in her position that she will work from home, hire her attorneys and have them work remotely and bring them on board so that we didn’t make a step, so on Wednesday when we occupy fully, it’s not because we’re now starting. We’re already starting,” he said.

The AG said some had questioned his decision to hire Shaik to head the department, due to her links to the opposition United National Congress (UNC).

She served as a temporary independent senator for the UNC, lending her voice to their debate of The Criminal Division and District Criminal and Traffic Courts Bill in 2018.

Al-Rawi said Shaik’s contribution in the Upper House was among the reasons he considered her for the post. He said she also impressed Gilbert Peterson SC, the Director/Chairman of the Legal Aid and Advisory Authority.

He said: “Ms Hasine Shaikh I first saw in brilliant flight opposite me sitting as a UNC bench senator twice in my tenure as attorney general, I was very impressed with her ability and charisma and sheer brilliance.

“Not only was I impressed but Peterson and the board of the Legal Aid Advice Authority were equally impressed and as you know the Attorney General is the person to sign off on all of the contracts and when the contract came to me, a few people said, ‘Are you crazy? You’re gonna hire a UNC to be chief public defender while you’re Attorney General?’”

“I said to them what’s the relevance of that? What is the relevance of that if I am entitled as the first elected attorney general in I believe 30 years to have a political party and persuasion? So what if our chief public defender had the courage to step forward and also stand up for her country but from a different location? To me, that is how our country is supposed to run,” he

The Legal Aid and Advisory Building cost an estimated $10 million to complete and was one of several construction projects which continued during the COVID-19 lockdown to ensure it’s completion on schedule.