A scheduling mix-up at the Port-of-Spain Magistrates' Court resulted in the dismissal of a private criminal complaint against Prime Minister Patrick Manning by 36-year-old Natasha Cumberbatch, yesterday. Manning appeared through his attorney Michael Quamina when the matter was called before Chief Magistrate Sherman Mc Nicolls in the Eighth Court.
Manning is the first sitting prime minister to face a private criminal charge. The Prime Minister was charged via a summons, along with a man identified as Michael Vasqueo, of Morvant. Both Manning and Vasqueo were alleged to have used annoying language against Cumberbatch on May 21, in Port-of-Spain. Up to late yesterday, Cumberbatch was at the office of the Justice of the Peace at the court, seeking to lay new charges.
She has until November 21, six months from the date of the alleged offence, to have the charges relaid before they become statute-barred.
A source at the court confirmed that fresh private charges were laid against Manning and Vasqueo, but did not wish to divulge the new court date. The court case, exclusively carried in yesterday's Guardian, resulted in several journalists camping outside the court from as early as 7 am, hoping the PM would show up. Even though Manning did not personally appear in court, his security detail pulled up outside the St Vincent Street courthouse, 20 minutes after the case was dismissed.
The Prime Minister did not come out of the vehicle. He simply smiled and waved at members of the media before his detail drove off. The case was the first to be called around 9.30 am before Mc Nicolls, who called both Manning's and Cumberbatch's names in open court. Within less then two minutes, the matter was dismissed by Mc Nicolls after Cumberbatch failed to appear in court when her name was called. The matter against Vasqueo was also thrown out, as Cumberbatch entered the courtroom.
Cumberbatch was seated in the First Court waiting for the matter to be called, oblivious to the fact that the matter was also listed before Mc Nicolls. After she was told that the matter against Manning was dismissed by Mc Nicolls, Cumberbatch ran towards the Eighth Court, only to be informed that both matters were thrown out because of her absence.
She was told by the prosecutor that the matters were dismissed because of her absence and advised there was a course of action she could adopt if she was dissatisfied with the outcome of the case. One hour later, the matters involving Manning and Vasqueo were called again. This time, before First Court Magistrate Cheron Raphael. The magistrate was told by Cpl Edmund that the matters were listed to be heard before the Chief Magistrate. "Oh! Well, this matter was wrongfully listed," Raphael said.
When asked by reporters to comment on the dismissal of the charges, Cumberbatch, who gave her address as Quarry Road in San Juan, said she was seeking to have the charges relaid. "I don't like to be bombarded like that, okay...When I have comments I will let you know," she said.
When asked if she had intentions of having fresh charges filed, she said, "I am very tired right now, but I am attending to it." Meanwhile, Quamina said it was not unusual for private complaints to be dealt with swiftly by the courts. He told reporters he had no clue what the charges stemmed from. It was alleged that on May 21, Manning and Vasqueo did use "annoying language with intent to provoke the complainant (Cumberbatch) to commit a breach of peace, contrary to Section 49, Chapter 11:02 of the Summary Offences Act." On June 25, Cumberbatch laid a complaint of the alleged offence and summonses were issued for both defendants.