March 8, 2007
State drops charge against Chief Justice


TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO – In an expected move, the State Monday dropped the criminal charge against Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma, clearing the way for impeachment proceedings initiated by Prime Minister Patrick Manning to take precedence.

The development came three days before the deadline in which Sharma has to respond to Manning on the very allegations which brought him before the criminal courts.{{more}}

The decision not to proceed with the criminal charge was determined by the surprising turn of events, when Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls opted not to give any further evidence. His decision came after the State tendered the final statements it intended to use against Sharma into evidence.

McNicolls turned up in court yesterday and stepped into the witness stand, but even before he uttered a word, lead prosecutor Gilbert Peterson SC, announced: “Having regard to the position indicated to us by this witness, we decided to adopt a particular position and not proceed any further. We ask that the accused be discharged. We are proceeding no further.”

Without enquiring the reason from the witness, a visibly shocked Senior Magistrate Lianne Lee Kim informed Sharma that the “prosecution was offering no evidence in this matter … you are discharged”.

Sharma, 64, was charged primarily on the statements of McNicolls, who alleged that Sharma tried to improperly influence him to find former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday not guilty on charges of failing to declare a London bank account to the Integrity Commission.

An indication that the criminal charge was facing imminent collapse came last week, when it was revealed that Manning had written Sharma on February 21, five days before the start of the preliminary enquiry into the charge, asking him to respond to a total of five statements from McNicolls, Attorney General John Jeremie and Sir Timothy Cassel QC, as a prelude to invoking Section 137 of the Constitution.

The Express reported exclusively on Saturday that the State had found itself in a judicial quandary, with legal sources saying 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. (Trinidad Express)