ON Friday night Chief Justice Sat Sharma reportedly locked himself in his house in Fairways, Maraval for two hours when police came to arrest him for allegedly attempting to pervert the course of justice in the trial of Basdeo Panday for not declaring his $10 million London bank account to the Integrity Commission. This is the first time in the history of Trinidad and Tobago that a Chief Justice has faced arrest and has succeeded in preventing police officers from executing a warrant — not once but three times.
Sharma’s lawyers succeeded in getting Justice Judith Jones, in a late sitting of the High Court on Friday night, to block any of the 7,000 officers of the Police Service from arresting Sharma. Jones thereby extended the bar she had earlier this week placed on both Deputy DPP Carla Brown-Antoine and Special Branch head ACP Wellington Virgil from arresting Sharma.
Friday’s developments were the latest in a series of unprecedented events involving the Chief Justice and the Judiciary in Trinidad and Tobago.
Events started when Dr Vijay Naraynsingh, a vascular surgeon, was charged with the murder of his wife Dr Chandra Naraynsingh in 2005. During the preliminary inquiry in San Fernando both the AG John Jeremie and the DPP Geoffrey Henderson complained to PM Patrick Manning that Sharma had attempted to influence the outcome of the inquiry being heard by Deputy Chief Magistrate Mark Wellington.
After investigating the matter and seeking legal advice, Manning requested President Max Richards to set up a tribunal to examine the question of whether the Chief Justice should be removed from office. Immediately as this action was taken by the Prime Minster, Sharma went to court and sought judicial review of the matter. In light of this Richards declined to set up the tribunal “at this time”.
Under the Constitution section 137 the tribunal is the mechanism for the removal of a Chief Justice for various reasons but is silent on the matter of criminal proceedings. The tribunal’s recommendation will ultimately have be decided by the Privy Council. At one stage mediation had started between both sides but that collapsed. In the meantime another complaint against the Chief Justice was made, this time by Chief Magistrate Sherman Mc Nicolls who was presiding at the trial of former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday on a charge that he had failed to declare a London bank account to the Integrity Commission. Mc Nicolls’ complaint was made to the Attorney-General who passed it on to the DPP. The DPP in turn passed the matter to the Acting Police Commissioner for further inquiry. These inquiries took several weeks and according to Commissioner of Police (CoP) Trevor Paul, some 20 statements were received and the Chief Justice was questioned by the police. Sharma in response filed a complaint to the Judicial and Legal Services Commission against Mc Nicolls involving a land deal.
However the police considered that a case had been made out against Sharma with respect to the Panday trial and were about to arrest him when Sharma applied to Justice Jones for a stay of any arrest warrant by the Deputy DPP. This was granted.
However the Deputy DPP swore an affidavit stating that she had given no instructions for charges to be laid.
A few days later Sharma’s attorneys returned to Justice Jones and obtained another order this time preventing Wellington Virgil from arresting the Chief Justice. Since the two orders had named only the Deputy DPP and Virgil, the police decided to execute the warrant by another police officer on Friday night. When Sharma’s attorneys got wind of this, the police were already in Sharma’s yard but reportedly could not gain entry because the CJ was locked inside his house. One of Sharma’s attorneys Russell Martineau who was at the CJ’s house with Appeal Court Justice Stanley John, was making frantic telephone calls on his cell-phone to communicate with Justice Jones at the Hall of Justice with respect to the latest order. Other Sharma attorneys had gone to Jones for the latest order, having got wind of the impending arrest. But once again, Justice Jones acceded to Sharma’s request that the arrest warrant should be stayed. This time the order included the 7,000 police officers of the Police Service, not just Virgil. When the order was read to the police they immediately withdrew from the CJ’s premises. Yesterday CoP Trevor Paul said the police had acted most properly and in his 40 years of service he had never experienced anything like what had occurred last week.
The matter has gravely affected the image of the judiciary in the country with some people believing that certain individuals are above the law and others believing that the matter is a political one.
In the meantime Justice Jones is on Tuesday scheduled to deal with the issue of the arrest of the Chief Justice, while the judicial review of the matter of the tribunal is scheduled for October. Yesterday all was said to be calm at the home of the Chief Justice. His wife said he was okay and doing alright.
(dates of news reports):
1. CJ allegedly interfered in Dr Naraynsingh murder-trial
March 2005: Dr Naraynsingh is freed, and in January 2006 Seeromanie Naraynsingh and Elton Ramasir are freed.
January 5, 2006: In a report to the PM, the AG said Sharma raised his shirt to show him a surgical scar across his abdomen saying that Naraynsingh had saved his life 14 years ago and could not have murdered his wife, and Sharma asked if the trial could be aborted.
February 16: PM told the Senate he is fact-finding. He said he got two letters from the AG and DPP making serious allegations against Sharma, whom he notified. Manning said that if he is satisfied that the matter should go further, he must refer it to the President who appoints a tribunal to investigate.
Manning said: “The PM does not determine guilt or innocence but merely satisfies himself that the question of removing the Chief Justice from office ought to be investigated...All of us would have preferred to let this cup pass, but the Government is concerned about ensuring that equality of opportunity and common fairness apply to us all however powerful or weak we might seem to be.”
Feb 20: Sharma denied asking AG to drop Naraynsingh trial.
March 1: High Court Judge Mark Mohammed gives statement to PM supporting AG’s account of the meeting with Sharma, which he said had made him feel “uncomfortable.”
March 5: Naraynsingh is freed and publicly backs Sharma.
April 2: PM tells the House of Representatives that he advised the President to set up a tribunal to examine the question of removing Sharma.
April 6: Sources said the PM would advise the President to suspend Sharma if he tries to block the establishment of a tribunal to investigate him, so that Sharma would not head the Judiciary which adjudicates on any application for judicial review or a constitutional motion by Sharma.
April 7: Mark Mohammed’s statement is published.
April 13: Sharma applied for judicial review against PM’s request for President to appoint a tribunal to investigate Sharma who alleged the PM’s move was illegal and breached natural justice and is “disproportionate, null and void, and of no effect.”
April 14: Justice Humphrey Stollmeyer agrees to Sharma’s request to block the tribunal on the eve of its appointment by the President.
April 16: The President, although not bound by the court, said that out of respect for the judiciary, he will not appoint the tribunal at this stage.
2. CJ allegedly interfered in Basdeo Panday integrity trial
May 5: Chief Magistrate Sherman Mc Nicolls complained that Sharma tried to influence him in the trial of Panday.
May 10: PM summons CJ to Whitehall over complaint by Chief Magistrate.
May 11: AG issued statement saying Mc Nicolls complained that Sharma tried to influence the Basdeo Panday trial for not declaring his $10 million London bank account under the Integrity Act. Panday was eventually found guilty and sentenced to two years imprisonment which he is appealing.
May 12: PM told Sharma that he referred Mc Nicolls’ complaint to AG, and has begun proceedings under section 137 of the Constitution on the question of removal of CJ from office.
May 13: PM told House that Sharma was “incoherent and emotionally distraught” when PM read him Mc Nicolls’ letter. PM added:
“This gave me no pleasure and it was in fact painful to experience. The allegation made by the Chief Magistrate appeared to have rattled him. In those circumstances I explained to him that there was already one matter as yet unresolved with accusations against him and this additional accusation had now come forward. It is I who suggested that, if he so chose, he could exercise the option to demit office voluntarily rather than be subject to any administrative or criminal proceedings which may possibly be proffered against him. The Chief Justice who was by that time in a state of deep emotion agreed that some time would be required for him to decide not what he would do but specifically whether or not he would tender his resignation. There was agreement that he would advise me of his intention upon his return to the country after an overseas trip.”
May 14: British Queens Counsel Sir Timothy Cassel issued a statement saying that on January 5 on his BWIA flight to Trinidad to prosecute the Panday trial, Sharma had told him it was a weak case (because in a Hindu family the wife looks after the finances, which was the defence of Panday) to which Cassell replied that Sharma should read Cassel’s opening speech before commenting on the strength of the case.
May 19: Police with a warrant raided CJ’s offices and took away documents.
May 20: CoP leads Fraud Squad seizing two documents from CJ’s office.
July 2: Secretary said she saw Panday in CJ’s lobby at Halls of Justice, but Panday said he can’t remember if he visited CJ.
July 7: Lawyers for PM and CJ in court each seek to strike out parts of each other’s affidavits.
July 11: Justice Judith Jones granted injunction to stop criminal charges against Sharma being laid by Deputy DPP Carla Brown-Antoine.
July 14: Justice Jones lets Sharma block ACP Wellington Virgil.
July 14: CJ’s judicial review of the PM’s call on the President to appoint a tribunal to investigate Sharma is scheduled to be heard on October 2.
July 15: In a late-night sitting Justice Jones lets Sharma block arrest by any of the 7,000 officers of the Police Service, while police had gone to Sharma’s house with a warrant to arrest him.