IT WAS fireworks of a different kind yesterday when it was
revealed that Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls would not
be available until next week to give evidence against Chief
Justice Satnarine Sharma at the criminal prosecution at
the Port-of-Spain Magistrates Court.
The defence was prepared for some full-throttle action,
expecting to keep McNicollsthe main accuser against
Sharma, alleging he was improperly approached by the CJ
to favour former prime minister Basdeo Panday at his integrity
trial in the witness box for at least three days.
But, the defences designs were iced when lead prosecutor
Gilbert Peterson, SC, said the Chief Magistrate was not
present and would not be available until Monday afternoon.
On Monday, McNicolls command of the Piarco Airport
corruption case, in the nearby Eighth Court, was the reason
proffered by the prosecution for the Chief Magistrates
inability, at the time, to testify at the inquiry.
No reason was given for McNicolls absence yesterday
and this drew the ire of one of Sharmas lawyers, Pamela
Elder, SC, who pressed for an excuse, even calling on Senior
Magistrate Lianne Lee Kim to issue a summons compelling
the Chief Magistrate to attend court.
Attempts to reach McNicolls at home were unsuccessful and
messages left on his answering machine were not returned.
As Elder repeatedly pressed for an explanation for McNicolls
absence, she said the situation was unsatisfactory.
witness should be allowed to frustrate the court...The fact
that this is the holder of a high office is totally irrelevant.
He must be treated like any other witness, she said
as she again prodded Magistrate Lee Kim to invoke her powers
under the Summary Courts Act and issue a summons.
has made a serious allegation against my client and he cannot
sit in office to perform his functions, she said.
must have known that from the time he gave statements in
the case, hed be subjected to cross-examination,
Elder continued, as she complained of the time lost in the
case because of yet another adjournment.
can frustrate the prosecution but not the defence,
Elder said, also telling Peterson he should not act like
a conduit pipe and simply come to court and
mouth that the witness would not be available.
But in a defiant rejoinder, Peterson said the defence was
not entitled to any explanation, adding: The witness
is not on the run. The witness could be the chief cook,
witness, or bottle washer. Everyone knows that having been
deposed they will have to be available for cross-examination.
And, specifically to Elder, Peterson asked that she be patient.
have her day in the sun.
Not to be undone, Elder fired back, reminding the lead prosecution
that: Justice delayed is justice denied.
did not say the witness was running, but was attempting
to frustrate ...
With neither the defence or prosecution letting up, Magistrate
Lee Kim attempted to soothe things over, telling the defence
that regard has to be sometimes given for unexpectant circumstances.
But she made it quite clear that while she was willing to
wait until Monday for McNicolls testimony, she was
prepared to act if on that occasion he again fails to appear
regardless if a reason, unreasonable or otherwise, is given.
Sharma is charged with perverting the course of public justice.
was apparent by the packed courtroom at the St Vincent Street,
Port-of-Spain, courthouse that everyone was bent on hearing
Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls testimony against
his colleague Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma.
The case was moved from the smaller Four A Magistrate Court,
where Senior Magistrate Lianne Lee Kim is accustomed presiding
to the slightly larger First Court down the corridor, owing
to a faulty air-condition system.
It made little difference. There was heat in the First Court.
The air-condition still was not functioning in that courtroom
and the verbal exchanges between the prosecution and defence
raised the mercury a few levels higher after it was revealed
that the chief witness against Sharma would not be in the
Arriving a few minutes before the scheduled 1 pm start of
the inquiry, Sharma encountered locked doors at the public
entrance to the courthouse which he has been using since
he first appeared in court in December, last year.
By that time a small gathering of people stood alongside
the heavy media contingent as they waited expectantly to
capture the historic inquiry on film or video.
At the end of yesterdays sitting, tempers had cooled
down but not the courtroom.
As Magistrate Lee Kim apologised for the uncomfortable location,
lead prosecutor Gilbert Peterson, SC, in a light hearted
banter said the Eighth Magistrates Court, where McNicolls
presides, would be available on Monday afternoon.
Peterson also indicated that the witness statement of Attorney
General John Jeremie was still to be filed.
Defence: Desmond Allum, SC, Pamela Elder, SC, Sophia Chote,
nProsecution: Gilbert Peterson, SC, deputy DPP Carla Brown-Antoine,
George Busby, Sabrina Dougdeen.