in limbo still casts long shadow
measured action promised by the President on
Tuesday, as he determined to take the lead in resolving
difficulties between the judiciary and the executive, actually
required a first move by the Chief Justice.
Chief Justice Sat Sharma made that move. He communicated
his decision not to preside in court until his own matter
had been adjudicated. This gave the President the opening.
President Richards promptly suspended the Chief Justice,
citing his stated inability to discharge functions of the
The immediate appointment of acting Chief Justice Roger
Hamel-Smith, able presumably both to preside in the Appeal
Court and to head the judicial administration, marks a welcome
break in the logjam of uncertainty.
It could never have been tenable for a Chief Justice, against
whom criminal charges had been preferred, to function as
a judge, no matter how unrelated the matters coming before
him might be.
Still, the Presidents suspension went further than
Mr Sharma expected. In the normal course of work, the Chief
Justice could choose which cases to hear; and Mr Sharma
had anyway delegated the power to decide which cases would
go before which judges.
Such arrangements still leave a Chief Justice with a large
portfolio. He is top administrative functionary in the judiciary
and chairman of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission.
The Chief Justice also heads the national awards committee,
which processes nominations and recommends a list of deserving
choices for approval of the Prime Minister. As an ex officio
Trinity Cross himself, the Chief Justice takes his place
in the high official line-up at Presidents House on
August 31, when the head of state delivers the awards.
Will the acting Chief Justice take over the screening and
evaluation of national awards nominations, assuming that
work is still in progress? The top national award, the Trinity
Cross, is scheduled for replacement or amendment, and the
Chief Justice might be expected to have some role to play
in the transition.
The show must go on; the business of the state must proceed.
But the Sharma shadow can be expected to fall over the events
certainly of the coming weeks. Those could well include
the ceremonial opening of the law term and the opportunity
of a national platform usually taken by the Chief Justice
to pronounce on judicial and related affairs.
An acting Chief Justice will be on stage, and the substantive
office holder somewhere in the wings on suspension. T&T
will be the setting for a rare drama of public affairs,
which the much used word, unprecedented, is
inadequate to capture.
Languishing in limbo, suspended Chief Justice Sharma is
not helpless. Litigation related to him will keep the courts
busy between the Hall of Justice here and the Privy Council
One spin-off issue has already defined itself: who has responsibility
for the heavy legal bills inevitably incurred? Is that for
the account of the private Mr Sat Sharma, or will it be
the state picking up the tab for the public office holder,
Chief Justice Sharma?
A related concern is about what terms and conditions apply
to a Chief Justice on suspension. Will he still be entitled
to pay, and to which benefits?
For the suspension, and the appointment of an acting CJ,
the President will claim justification on the basis of the
need to rectify ills, including declining public image,
of the judiciary.
The public must hope that, in prosecuting this aim, the
substantive Chief Justice will not be reduced to the status
of common felon, about breaking down whose door, for example,
Commissioner Trevor Pauls police will no longer feel