Saturday, May 13 2006
The following statement was made by Mr Patrick Manning, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, to the House of Representatives yesterday with respect to a complaint made against Chief Justice Sat Sharma by the Chief Magistrate Sherman Mc Nicolls. The Mc Nicolls complaint concerned an alleged interference in the Basdeo Panday case over which Mc Nicolls presided. Mc Nicolls found Panday guilty under the Integrity in life Act and sentenced him to two years in prison.
Mr Speaker, on Tuesday February 15, 2005, I made a statement in the other place concerning the procedure I intended to follow in relation to allegations made against the Honourable Chief Justice. I made a further statement to Honourable Members here on April 1, 2005 outlining the circumstances which led me to write to His Excellency the President requesting the establishment of a tribunal in accordance with the constitutional demands required of me.
Mr Speaker, it is with very deep regret that I must advise this House, once again, that another controversy has developed in which accusations have been made against the Honourable Chief Justice.
Mr Speaker, in relation to these fresh allegations, I wish to inform the national community that I intend to follow a procedure similar to the one I outlined in my February 15 statement, and that I shall, as I did then, continue to act in accordance with, and in adherence to the constitution which I am sworn to defend. It goes without saying that my very action shall be taken on the basis of sound legal advice.
Mr Speaker, I cannot in good conscience repeat the statement I made on February 15 but it is so important that I kindly ask that it be included in this statement I am making today, since each pertinent point of procedure has been addressed in the approach to be taken when allegations are made against the Chief Justice and brought to the attention of the Prime Minister.
Mr Speaker, on Friday May 5, I received correspondence from the Chief Magistrate making certain allegations against the Chief Justice. On the same day, I approached His Excellency the President and informed him of the correspondence which was in my possession. On Monday May 8, I invited the Chief Justice to a meeting in my office at which I showed him the said correspondence which he read.
Mr Speaker, ordinarily I would not divulge the contents of a conversation with the Chief Justice which was intended to be private and confidential. However, I have noted with regret that the Honourable Chief Justice has already put in the public arena at least some of what passed between us and much has since been reported about what I allegedly said to him. As a consequence, it is incumbent upon me to give a fuller and more accurate account of what transpired then.
Mr Speaker, having read the Chief Magistrate’s statement, the Honourable Chief Justice became incoherent, and appeared to be emotionally distraught during the conversation which ensued. This gave me no pleasure and it was in fact painful to experience. The allegations 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 his 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.
Mr Speaker, since then, I have read in the statement which the Honourable Chief Justice has made public that he has reported the Chief Magistrate to the Judicial and Legal Services Commission for having falsely and maliciously alleged that he had attempted to influence the Chief Magistrate in the Panday matter and that he now flatly denies that he had ever done so.
Mr Speaker given the serious nature of the allegation made against the Honourable Chief Justice by another high ranking judicial officer, it is once again incumbent upon me to consider whether this is an appropriate case for the initiation of the procedure for the removal of the Chief Justice under section 137 of the Constitution. Being of that mind, on Wednesday May 10 I telephoned the Chief Justice and informed him that I intended to consider whether the question of his removal ought to be investigated under the Consti-tution. In this regard, I have not made any decision, as some have suggested, and my mind is and remains open.
Mr Speaker, since only thirteen months ago this same process had to be initiated, I was and still am aware of the constitutional requirements, which proscribe how a Prime Minister must respond to these matters. Indeed, I had spoken to His Excellency on Friday May 5 and felt then, as I do feel now, that at this stage of the deliberations, such a sensitive and delicate matter ought to be discussed in a private and confidential manner.
I wish to assure this Honourable House and members of the national community that the Prime Minister has been scrupulously careful neither to speak to the media nor anyone connected therewith and that the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice included no other persons.
When the media began to speculate, an official release was issued from my office indicating that I had met with the Chief Justice at my invitation and I was particular not to indicate the content of that meeting. The way events unfolded thereafter, and in view of my planned departure from the country, I requested a second meeting with His Excellency the President for further discussions on the matter. In yet another public release from my office, the public was informed of the cancellation of my proposed European mission, as Head of CARICOM, in order to ensure that I was at home to respond to any matters which at that time appeared likely to unfold. I have since also issued a third release informing the public of my further conversation with the Chief Justice on Wednesday May 10.
Mr Speaker, there are Sub Judice means involving decisions of the Chief Magistrate which are now under appeal. It is not for the Prime Minister to speculate and to get involved in anyway whatever with such matters. I am not intending to discuss any question of the sale of land by anyone, nor whether there is understanding on my part of the separation of powers, nor put an interpretation on the abuse of power, or determine guilt or innocence of anyone, or comment on any decision given in a court of law by a judicial officer, as commentators, most of whom are uninformed are bandying about in the media.
All of these are accusations made against the Prime Minister seeking to obfuscate the main and central issue which is whether or not the allegations contained in the correspondence received by the Prime Minister warrant an investigation. That is the issue which is engaging the attention of the Prime Minister as is required under the Constitution.
This afternoon, Mr Speaker, I will say only this, that there cannot possibly be any inconsistency between the principle of judicial independence upon which our entire constitution and the rule of law are based, and the procedure provided for under that very constitution for the investigation of serious allegations of impropriety made against judicial officers. To seek to undermine this process by characterising any attempt to call upon a judicial officer to answer serious allegations as an attack on the independence of the judiciary is to make judges unaccountable and above the rule of law.
Mr Speaker, I wish to assure the national community that neither the Prime Minister nor the Government has, or intends to, interfere with the independence of the Judiciary. We respect the separation of powers and adhere to same. But allegations have been raised with respect to the Chief Justice and it is incumbent upon me, in fulfillment of my constitutional responsibilities, and indeed in order to protect the independence of the Judiciary to take the action that has been taken thus far.
The anxiety of some commentators and sections of the media to crucify the actions of the Prime Minister, which until today have been made selectively public, demonstrates that they too seem to forget that it is always useful, indeed it is necessary, to hear the other side. It is only then that we can determine where the truth resides.
On a purely personal note, I refute totally and emphatically the accusation that I attempted to bully and hound out from office anyone. I did no such thing. What I did was to state that I preferred to see that the country is spared of this turmoil on yet another occasion. It is in these circumstances and in the face of the noticeable anguish of the Honourable Chief Justice that the question of demitting office arose.
It is also very true that I did telephone the Honourable Chief Justice that I would not personally like to see a Chief Justice being faced with possible criminal prosecution if such an occasion can be avoided. Let me make it clear that I made no minatory remarks to the Chief Justice as being interpreted by some of the anxious commentators all of whom have specific and particular agendas.
In his public statement, the Honourable Chief Justice has said that he has made a report against the Chief Magistrate to the Judicial and Legal Services Commission and the Integrity Commission. Such a matter is not within the purview of the Prime Minister and I therefore offer no comment on this.
In view of the totality of all the circumstances, I have not yet formally written to the Chief Justice to ask for his response to the Chief Magistrate’s allegations. What I have done is to ask my legal advisors to write to the Chief Magistrate seeking further particulars of his statement and otherwise to collect as much other information as may be relevant to the task I am called upon to undertake. When this process is complete I will forward all the information in my possession for the Chief Justice’s comments.
In the meantime I have sent the document from the Chief Magistrate to the Honourable Attorney General for appropriate action and have issued a public statement so advising.
Mr Speaker, it is extremely sad but a concomitant of democracy that the country must go through this turmoil on yet another occasion. I am optimistic nonetheless that at the end of it, we shall all benefit from the results of these actions.
I would wish to assure the public as I did on a previous occasion that I approach this task, which is not of my choosing, mindful of the solemnity of the occasion and the consequences of the process underway. I will consider carefully and dispassionately all the material put before me, including in particular any response the Chief Justice may make. As before, I will be seeking the advice of three eminent local and foreign members of the inner bar. I will act fairly but decisively. I will not recommend to the President that the question of removing the Chief Justice ought to be investigated unless I am fully satisfied that there is prima facie sufficient basis in fact to warrant such an investigation. I do not and will not condemn the Chief Justice. That is not required of me. But I will carry out my constitutional duty in accordance with the rule of law and the principles of fairness, as is expected of me.
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