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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I'm concerned about justice in Trinidad & Tobago...

I'm worried about the justice system in the country, but not for the reasons that most people seem to be in the press and other public forums. Of course I'm worried about a number of things that other people are worried about, like the ability to legally block arrest, but there's something else that concerns me when I look at the situation with the Chief Justice more holistically.

When we look at what is in play at present, I can see two camps that have forming in our judicial system - those who are for the Chief Justice and those who believe that he is to be removed.

Those for the Chief Justice are the ones that have been the most vocal over time, making assertions and allegations about assault on the Constitution and the Judiciary. Joining that camp are persons with political, religious and racial agendas, or combinations of the three in some cases. They now claim that the removal of the Chief Justice is moved by one or more of those three motivations - politics, race or religion.

Tune out all of the noise though and we have the facts that very eminent members of the judiciary and in legal practice have come forward independently to make two different sets of allegations against the Chief Justice. One involves his alleged interference in the Narayansingh Murder Trial and the other his alleged interference in the Basdeo Panday Intergrity Trial.

Now I'm sure that in a different place and space, the Chief Justice for the integrity of the Office alone, would have stepped down. But not so in a country where "Honourable Member of Parliament" and "Honourble Justice" seems to be quickly joining laughable local oxymorons like "Police Intelligence" and "TSTT service". Instead, the Chief Justice obtained a stay, issued by one of his juniors to block, the Prime Minister from approaching the President with the allegations until the matter can be reviewed. I've posted separately the details of how the process of impeachment of a judge or Chief Justice is to work according to the Constitution. Section 137 of the Constitution - Removal from Office of a Judge - has been oft cited but little quoted.

In the second matter, that of the Basdeo Panday Integrity Trial, the Police investigated, and between them and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions have determined that there is a criminal charge that can be made against the man, Satnarine Sharma, for attemtpting to pervert the course of public justice. Again, the Chief Justice has applied for an obtained a stay from one of his juniors that, eventually after several amendments, prevents any member of the service from arresting him to face the charge.

What concerns me here is the vehemence of the defence of the man, Satnarine Sharma, by leading members of the judiciary and the legal profession, even as others quietly stand in support of the prosecution effort.

People have spoken broadly and made much noise about an alleged Governemt attack on the Judiciary. But I fear that what we really have going on is a Judicial attack on the law and the Constitution that stands at its core. In the first instance, the natural course of the very Constitution is blocked, and in the second, the ability of the Police to do their work is stymied.

What is even more disconcerting is one question that keeps arising in my mind. And that is the question of what a lawyer or judge has to gain from supporting and having in office a Chief Justice that is alleged to have attempted to pervert the course of justice, and for which in both sets of allegations to date, evidence exists to support the charges. Why should a judge deemed to be of incorrect stance not face justice themselves? There's provision for it in the Constitution. There is even the benefit of facing a panel of peers, I assume to be able to spout all the legalese that is necessary and still be clearly understood. But why the difference in stance between those who readily quote law and cite the Constitution, and those who impugn racial and political motivation for impeachment and arrest?

There's already the perception in the country that there is one law for the wealthy and one for the rest of us. There is also the perception that corruption exists at the highest levels of society. But does the battle to keep a tainted judicial official in office, and the highest seated judicial official at that, now raise questions about the dispensers of justice?

In a country where it is said that the major economic driver after oil and gas is the drug trade, crime is rampant, and man has lost respect for his fellow man, should the Judiciary, and even if just the Judiciary, not at least seem to be completely above reproach? Should the public not be left with that impression and small comfort instead of having to face the reality of having a Chief Justice roundly and robustly defended in the face of startling allegations?

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