Thursday 1st March, 2007

 

Elder: Justice delayed is justice denied

McNicolls a no-show

 
 
 
 
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Sherman McNicolls

By Jada Loutoo

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 McNicolls—the 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 defence’s 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 Magistrate’s 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 Sharma’s 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.”

No 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.

He has made a serious allegation against my client and he cannot sit in office to perform his functions,” she said.

He must have known that from the time he gave statements in the case, he’d be subjected to cross-examination,” Elder continued, as she complained of the time lost in the case because of yet another adjournment.

He 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.

She’ll have her day in the sun.”

Not to be undone, Elder fired back, reminding the lead prosecution that: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

I 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.
Pamela Elder
Gilbert Peterson

 


IT 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 hot seat.

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 yesterday’s 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.

Who’s who

Defence: Desmond Allum, SC, Pamela Elder, SC, Sophia Chote, Rajiv Persad.

nProsecution: Gilbert Peterson, SC, deputy DPP Carla Brown-Antoine, George Busby, Sabrina Dougdeen.

©2005-2006 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

Designed by: Randall Rajkumar-Maharaj · Updated daily by: Sheahan Farrell