National Security Minister Stuart Young and the Law Association of T&T (LATT) seem to be engaged in a war of words over statements Young and the prime minister have made about attorneys over the past several days.
In a release yesterday, LATT hit back at Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Young over what they deemed to be derogatory remarks made about attorneys representing Venezuelan migrants.
The Association said it had noted Rowley’s characterisation of such attorneys as ‘bottom feeders.’
The association says it also takes offense to Young’s allegations that a statement made in a court hearing by an attorney representing Venezuelan migrants could be linked to aiding and abetting illegal migrants.
“It goes without saying that if that alone was evidence of aiding and abetting the commission of a crime, the particular lawyer concerned should have already been charged,” the release states.
But the association says it is ‘plain’ that the statement could have information passed on to the attorney by relatives or friends of the migrants.
The association said this does not point to any involvement in human trafficking.
LATT said when he was addressing the cost of defending legal claims made by migrants, Rowley said when the State wins a case in court, it does not recover legal costs but the State must pay costs for cases it loses.
The association quoted Rowley as saying, “It is a bonanza for the lawyers who troll with the other bottom feeders there.”
“Presumably, the Honourable Prime Minister would not characterise as “bottom feeders” the lawyers in his Cabinet, or those who represent him in court, or from whom he takes advice or with whom he otherwise associates,” the association said.
LATT said attorneys who sue for costs were only carrying out their duty and acting in the public’s interest in upholding the rule of law.
“While we accept that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, like any other citizen, is free to criticize members of the legal profession where there is cause so to do, the danger is that the cumulative attacks by the government on lawyers representing vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers may put those lawyers at risk of defamatory or even physical retaliation by members of the public.”
The association urged the government to exercise restraint, saying if an attorney breaks the law they should be prosecuted.
“Unsubstantiated accusations of criminal activities and blanket character assassination by the holders of high office are not only unfair to the countless lawyers honestly and courageously carrying out their duties, but contributes to the de-legitimization of a profession without which access to justice and the rule of law simply cannot survive,” the association said.
But in his response in a press release yesterday afternoon, Young defended his questioning of the attorney’s statements in court.
He said lawyers were not above question or the law.
“It is legitimate for anyone to ask how certain lawyers seem to have access to illegal immigrants without physically meeting with them to get instructions. The question arises: how are they getting instructions, and from whom?” Young asked.
The Minister said the illegal immigrants the association referred to, broke laws in two countries: Venezuela and T&T as both countries have their borders closed.
He questioned again how attorneys connect with illegal immigrants, asking, “The question must be asked and should be answered: how are these lawyers communicating with persons illegally entering our country and is there facilitation of human smuggling and possibly human trafficking taking place?”
Young said based on the statements made by the attorney at the court hearing, he wants to know how the attorney came by the information.
“If someone had knowledge that persons were illegally attempting to enter our borders and they were facilitating this breach of our laws, isn’t that aiding and abetting human smuggling?” he asked.
He said he viewed these questions as serious and repeated his statement that not even members of LATT are above the law.