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06PORTOFSPAIN922 2006-08-04 18:03:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Port Of Spain
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1. (U) T&T continues to be captivated by the convoluted
Chief Justice criminal case (ref A). Chief Justice Satnarine
Sharma stands accused of perverting the course of justice by
inappropriately influencing the decision in the corruption
case against former Prime Minister and Leader of the
Opposition, Basdeo Panday (ref B). Sharma had pulled out all
the legal stops he could by obtaining multiple injunctions
preventing the police from arresting him. On July 31, an
appeals court ruled that the injunction was inappropriate;
however, Sharma's legal team immediately appealed the case to
the Privy Council in London. In fact, both sides had already
agreed that the case would go to the Privy Council no matter
which way the appeals court ruled.

2. (U) On July 26, Sharma had announced that he would "step
aside8, that is, only fulfill his duties as administrator of
the court, not his judicial duties. The next day, President
Richards invoked Section 103 of the Constitution, which
states that if the Chief Justice is unable to perform his/her
duties the President can remove him/her from office. He
relieved Sharma of all his duties and appointed Justice Roger
Hamel-Smith as Acting Chief Justice until the case is
resolved. Sharma is due to step down as Chief Justice in
early 2007 under T&T retirement provisions in any case.

3. (C) COMMENT: The case continues to be handled in the
court system, and, while the Opposition claims that the
President was politically influenced to relieve Sharma of his
duties, Post has no evidence that indicates the President
acted inappropriately. Now that the President has stepped
in, the case touches all three branches of government, and
will have long-lasting implications for the country in terms
of the separation of powers. An interesting adjunct issue to
the case is that of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
Public opinion seems to be evenly divided between whether or
not this case bolsters the need for T&T to join the CCJ
(housed, incidentally, in Port of Spain) or indicates that
justice is best served when the judges are far removed from
the day-to-day political struggles of the country, preferably
across the Atlantic in London. END COMMENT.