Herbert Philip Volney, who was last night fired as Justice Minister by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, has often been the centre of controversy—first during his career on the bench and later throughout his two and a half years as a government minister. Volney was the third of eight children born to St Lucian Cyril Volney and his Dominican wife, Rosalind, on June 8, 1953, at Plymouth in Montserrat. He was educated at primary schools in Antigua, Barbados, St Kitts and Dominica, attended St Mary’s Academy in Dominica and then the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies. He spent many years travelling back and forth to Trinidad and Tobago but finally settled here in 1978 after completing his law studies. He had the choice of going to Dominica to be part of the political movement led by prime minister Eugenia Charles, or getting married and settling down in T&T.
He chose the latter and took up a position in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, where he prosecuted many cases, including the infamous Navarro case of corruption involving the BWIA DC 9 and DC7 aircraft. He retired as Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions and worked in the law chambers of Karl Hudson-Phillips, QC, until opening his own private law office in 1991. In 1994 he was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court. Volney registered his most controversial decision in 1998, when he refused to accept Dr Hughvon des Vignes as an expert witness in the case of Brad Boyce, who was on trial for manslaughter. This led to the acquittal of the defendant on the point that there was no competent witness to decide on the issue of cause of death. Another controversial decision by Volney came on July 14, 2006, when he granted bail to Jamaat al Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr, who was charged with sedition. After having been initially denied bail by Justice Prakash Moosai on January 30, 2006, Bakr was allowed bail by Volney in the sum of $400,000, despite objections from the State. Volney cited Bakr’s need for medical care as his reason for doing so.
By the time he retired from the judiciary on April 28, 2010, to stand for the constituency of St Joseph in the general election of that year, Volney had presided over 400 High Court trials in Port-of-Spain, San Fernando and Scarborough. He was announced as a UNC candidate just 18 days after Prime Minister Patrick Manning dissolved Parliament. Volney was elected to the House of Representatives and was appointed Minister of Justice on May 28. Volney stirred up controversy in his first parliamentary address when he made disparaging remarks about his former boss, Chief Justice Ivor Archie, in his contribution to the 2010/2011 budget debate. In September 2010, Volney called for murderers to be publicly hanged in Woodford Square.
Volney drew fire in November 2011 when he defended a clause in the DNA Bill which would have allowed samples to be taken from rape victims without their consent. He described objections to the clause as “totally unacceptable,” but had to back down and amend it. The Justice Minister found himself the focus of criticism earlier this year for his statement that the Police Service had become a “runaway service.” He did so when he spoke on the death of Atiba Duncan, who was shot by police at Mt D’Or, Champs Fleurs. Police Commissioner Dwayne Gibbs called for the intervention of John Sandy, Minister of National Security at that time. Volney weathered all those controversies, maintaining his ministerial portfolio through two Cabinet reshuffles by the Prime Minister. In the end, his role in the early proclamation of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act proved his undoing.