CJ impeachment – test of institutional strength

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, May 25, 2007One of the ways that young nations grow is by testing the strength of their institutions, said today’s editorial of the Trinidad Express Newspaper. The newspaper was commenting on the news which broke this week that Prime Minister Patrick Manning is moving ahead with the impeachment of Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma. The two have been locked in a battle since the prime minister asked him to resign on the basis of allegations from Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicholls that he sought to influence the outcome of a court case against former prime minister Basdeo Panday. Following is the full text of the editorial of the Trinidad Express.

One of the ways young nations grow up is by having to test the institutions around which they have been founded. The tribunal appointed by President George Maxwell Richards, in accordance with the Constitution, to determine whether the Chief Justice tried to influence former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday’s integrity trial is one such test.

President Richards appointed the tribunal on the advice of Prime Minister Patrick Manning who has been at pains to point out that his advice to the President does not mean that he, himself, thinks that Chief Justice Sharma is guilty, only that he believes he is bound, in the instant matter, to do his duty as he sees it.

In the end, the Chief Justice may be found by the tribunal to have done what he has been accused of doing by controversial Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls in which event the case will then go to the Privy Council to make a final determination of the matter. It is also possible, of course, that in the end the tribunal could find that the Chief Justice did not betray his high office in which case that would also be the end of the matter except, of course, for the residual damage that might have been done to the reputation of one of the country’s eminent jurists.

In both cases in time the matter would eventually be laid to rest with Trinidad and Tobago going forward in the way that other countries, which have had to face similar and even sterner tests, have gone forward, nationhood never being an easy matter with the need for rigour ongoing.

To date no objections have been made as to the composition of the tribunal, former Privy Councillor, Lord Michael Mustill Q.C, past president of the Jamaican Bar Association, Mr Dennis Morrison Q.C and former Chief Justice and President of the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Sir Vincent Floissac having apparently being able to pass muster.

Indeed, they comprise a panel weighted, as one would expect, in favour of West Indians versed in regional law as well as culture but including a member of the English jurisdiction from which most of our laws have flowed and whose highest court, to this day, remains ours as well.

Citizens then can reasonably expect that the tribunal will conduct its affairs without fear or favour and, as a testimony to that, the expectation must be that it will be held in public so that justice will not only be done but manifestly be seen to be done.