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Lawyers on delay in judgments: Not enough to impeach CJ

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A former chief justice and two Senior Counsel have agreed that delays in delivering judgments is not sufficient grounds for the impeachment of Chief Justice Ivor Archie. When contacted yesterday for comment on the proposed action threatened by two death row inmates on Thursday, former chief justice Satnarine Sharma, former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, and Senior Counsel Israel Khan, agreed that such action against a Chief Justice could only be taken in extreme circumstances. 



In a telephone interview yesterday, Sharma, who was also subject to similar proceedings during his tenure in 2005, said he believed the over three-year delay in both men’s appeals was not enough to compel the Prime Minister to invoke her powers under Section 137 of the Constitution. “It (impeachment) is a last resort. I don’t think an isolated case can invoke that. It can not be done willy-nilly like with a public servant,” Sharma said.  


Sharma said such proceedings would likely affect the entire adminstration of justice as the Judiciary was one of the country’s major institutions. In 2005, former chief magistrate Sherman Mc Nicolls made a complaint over alleged misconduct by former chief justice Sharma. Former prime minister Patrick Manning then advised former president George Maxwell Richards to set up a tribunal to investigate the allegations and Sharma was suspended. 


However, Sharma mounted several legal challenges, which culminated with a Privy Council appeal in which he was cleared of the allegations. He also referred to his personal experience with impeachment proceedings, while saying: “I had to fight tooth and nail against the allegation.” Sharma also warned that impeachment proceedings should not be abused to “bring down people.” 


Maharaj also said he believed impeachment proceedings against Archie were not necessary and said he believed the threat was politically motivated. “I don’t like the smell of this attempt to impeach the Chief Justice for delays in judgments. It smells of a political conspiracy to get rid of him,” Maharaj said. 



The Issue

In the letter, Criston J Williams, who is representing the two convicted murderers—Lester Pitman and Gerard Wilson—told Roberts he intended to send a complaint to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, asking her to exercise her discretion under Section 137 of the Constitution to advise President Anthony Carmona to initiate impeachment proceedings against Archie for his role in the delays. 


Williams is also contending that the delay of more than three years in the judgments have breached his clients’ constitutional rights. Williams has given the Judiciary seven days to respond to the letter before he writes to the PM.



Other responses

Senior Counsel Israel Khan said while the delays were a cause of concern, he did not think impeachment proceedings against the Chief Justice were necessary but he questioned Maharaj’s assertion that the move was politically motivated. “He is speaking with a political mind and not that of a concerned former attorney general,” Khan said. Khan said under the Constitution, accused people were guaranteed a fair trial but not a speedy one. 


“While it may be a concern with the general population and lawyers, there must be a good reason for the delays in those cases,” Khan said. Like Maharaj, Khan suggested there was need for reform in the criminal justice system, which, he said, would help reduce delays in criminal trials. An e-mail was sent to Law Association president Seenath Jairam asking for a comment but he had not responded up to late yesterday. 


The T&T Guardian attempted to contact several other senior lawyers for comment but they all said they could not comment as they were involved in some of the outstanding appeals in one way or another. Calls to the Judiciary’s information and protocol manager Jones P Madeira went unanswered.


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