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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

TRINIDAD EXPRESS: "...Ramesh slams 'harassment' [of the Chief Justice]"

The Trinidad Express of Monday March 3rd carries an article which states, emphasis mine:
A civil rights association has slammed Prime Minister Patrick Manning's decision to have Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma impeached a second time as harassment and oppressive.

In a statement last Saturday, the T&T Civil Rights Association said it had reported the matter to the International Commission of Jurists and the Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, asking for their intervention.

The statement was prepared by the association's chairman, former United National Congress attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj.

In a July 2006 article on this blog, apart from directing readers to an excellent piece by Raffique Shah and an address made by Dr. Selwyn Cudjoe, information on the website of the very International Commission of Jurists to which the former AG refers was highlighted.

Dated August 27th, 2002 and captioned "Attacks on Justice 2002 - Trinidad and Tobago", there were a few interesting few paragraphs under the sub-caption, "Conflicts between the Government and the judiciary", and I strongly recommended reading again, particularly given the fact that the article refers to attempts by the then Attorney General to legislate away the independence of the Judiciary between 1999 and 2001.

It is to be noted too that the CIJL is a sub-body of the ICJ, and not a separate organisation.

Despite the former AG's assertions though, research suggests that there was not a first impeachment. Indeed, current moves by the Prime Minister are but a continuation of the process that began in January of 2005, more than two years ago.

Impeachment proceeedings had been pre-empted by CJ Sharma's legal team in early 2005. This action effectively blocked Prime Minister Patrick Manning from approaching President G.M. Richard to advise him, under section 137 of the Constitution, to commence investigations into allegations of misconduct on the part of the Chief Justice. Trinidad Guardian article dated April 14th, 2005 under caption "President holds key to CJ’s fate" tell the tale.

This was corroborated by a lengthy television statement made by Attorney General John Jeremie in July 2006. Up to that time, more than a year later, the proceedings filed by the CJ had not completed hearing. As such, despite the fact that several judges had made allegations of misconduct against CJ in January of 2005 and that further and multiple allegations continued to surface since that time, most notable being alleged interference in the matter of The Police vs. Basdeo Panday, the CJ continued to hold office and command of the Judiciary.

It was on the basis of the allegation made by the Chief Magistrate in the case of The Police vs. Basdeo Panday though that the Attorney General, according to his address,
...wrote separately to the Director of Public Prosecutions and to the Commissioner of Police. In [his] letter to the Commissioner of Police, [he] requested that the police take steps to investigate the matter of the allegations made against the Chief Justice, as well as the allegations made by the Chief Justice against the Chief Magistrate, the Attorney General and all other citizens mentioned in his complaint.
It was out of these investigations, he went onto state, that decision was taken to lay charges against the man Satnarine Sharma, the sitting Chief Justice, for attempting to pervert the course of public justice.

Subsequent to this, the CJ's legal team withdrew their main legal challenge to impeachment proceedings in September 2006.

On November 30th, 2006, following much legal wrangling, the Privy Council ruled against Satnarine Sharma in his attempts to block the criminal proceedings and he handed himself over to the Police. The man Satnarine Sharma came then to begin facing his criminal charge before Senior Magistrate Lianne Lee Kim in the Port of Spain Magistrates Court on February 26, 2007.

According to today's press, criminal charges have been dropped by the Director of Public Prosecutions, clearing the way for the resumption of impeachment proceedings against the CJ.

It is not honest then to state that the Prime Minister was going after the CJ for a second time. Further, to state that pursuing impeachment under section 137 of the Consitution is "harassment and oppressive" is similar disingenuous because those proceedings never ended. They were stalled. In actuality, as the Express states in its article on the dropping of the criminal charges, legal sources indicate that:
...it was oppressive and an abuse of process to pursue two separate actions against the Chief Justice based on the same allegations and a decision had to be made on which matter would take priority.
Thus one matter - notably the one where CJ Sharma would not have to face jail time - has taken precedence over the other.

The former AG's allegation in the Express article that, "The decision of the Prime Minister [to proceed with impeachment] amounts to oppression in law and constitutes an abuse of power by the Prime Minister" is further refuted by Justice Carlton Best. Following a hearing of last objections to impeachment proceedings by Sharma's legal team, he stated:
It seems that no other person under the Constitution, but the Prime Minister, can initiate this. If the Prime Minister is ill, somebody else will do it. If he is away, somebody else will do it. This is nothing personal with the Prime Minister, it has to do with the office of the Prime Minister.
According to the Newsday article, Justice Best found that, "Manning was the only person with authority under section 137 (3) of the Constitution to take action against the Chief Justice. "

One must be careful to note at this stage, more than two years later, that despite multiple allegations made by several judges and legal professionals, the Chief Justice might have continued to sit with impunity over the Judiciary.

That all moves against him were challenged suggests that his intent was to remain in office despite any and all allegations made against him, and despite the provisions of the Constitution with respect to the investigation of allegations of misconduct.

That the Court of Appeal and Privy Council gave way to arrest Sharma suggests that submissions made to them showed that there was sufficient evidence to support a criminal charge. It is to be noted that the criminal charge covered only one case of interference in the course of justice. Other allegations made by judges and lawyers were not considered in this singular matter.

In these circumstances, that the State has seen it fit to drop criminal charges to permit the continuance of impeachment proceedings should be considered gracious.

Despite the years-long debacle over Chief Justice Sharma's alleged misconduct, the article referred to above remains to date the only article on the ICJ website relative to Trinidad and Tobago's Justice system.

Given the length of time that the case of Satnarine Sharma has been in the public space, that the ICJ has seeming ignored the machinations of Justice in Trinidad and Tobago since 2002 is indeed telling, and suggests that there may be no reason for concern, nor that any unsubstantiated old talk on the matter need be taken seriously.

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