Former Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma may not be remembered for his erudite judicial acumen or his radical reform of the administration of the Judiciary.
Instead, his tenure was overshadowed by serious allegations of attempting to influence the verdict in a criminal trial against former prime minister, Basdeo Panday, and the DPP’s decision to instruct the police to charge one of the country’s leading cardiovascular surgeon’s for murder.
Although the allegations were never proven in a court of law - Sharma felt as though he was convicted in the court of public opinion.
He died yesterday at the age of 76, at his home, surrounded by family after losing his battle with cancer.
At the helm of the Judiciary, he was supported in the Appeal Court by some of the top legal minds of that era: including Mustapha Ibrahim, Lloyd Gopeesingh, Roger Hamel-Smith, Lionel Jones, Jean Permanand, Zainool Hosein, Margot Warner, Anthony Lucky, among others.
He took over the reins of the Judiciary after former Chief Justice Micheal de la Bastide retired in 2002 and oversaw the contentious implementation of the Civil Proceedings Rules which dramatically changed the way in which civil cases are heard and determined.
He was also credited for the establishment of the Family Court, a division of the High Court and magistracy, offering a more amenable environment to determine matters delicate in nature such as the future of children.
His uncanny ability to cut to the chase in criminal appeals and even complex civil matters was admired by seasoned senior practitioners.
Whenever he sat as president of the Appeal Court tribunal, Sharma took control of the hearing. His pointed questions to prosecutors and defence attorneys unravelled mountains of case law, as he adopted a common-sense approach in resolving disputes of law and evidence.
Sharma’s landmark ruling on the rights of partners in common-law relationships was adopted by this country’s highest appellate court, the Privy Council in London and has stood the test of time.
Other impactive rulings include the requirement for people accused of criminal offences to counter-sign their admissions in a police stations diaries to preserve the integrity of their admission and insulate it from allegations of coercion. Sharma’s ruling on the 48-hour period police are allowed to detain a suspect without charge has also been cited as defining case law and still applies today.
Sharma was gung-ho in clearing the backlog of cases, particularly magisterial appeals, and pioneered the audio-digital recording system in the magistracy to speed up the delivery of justice.
At the end of his career, Sharma surrounded himself with his family and close friends who never abandoned him in his darkest hour.
He felt betrayed by those of whom he trusted and believed there was a conspiracy among top public office holders to hound him out of office.
Sharma retired in 2008 and was the first Chief Justice in the Western hemisphere to face an impeachment tribunal. The investigation was triggered by former prime minister Patrick Manning, under Section 137 of the Constitution.
Manning had given Sharma an ultimatum in a private meeting - resign or face an impeachment tribunal - the former chief justice chose the latter.
After a lengthy and expensive hearing, the three-member tribunal, chaired by Lord Mustill, recommended to then-president George Maxwell Richards that the question of removal of the Chief Justice from office should not be referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in December 2007.
In July 2005, armed police surrounded Sharma’s Maraval home to execute a warrant for his arrest on a charge of attempting to pervert the course of public justice by trying to influence the then-attorney general John Jeremie and then-DPP Geoffrey Henderson to drop the murder charge against Prof Vijay Naraynsingh.
Within minutes, the former Chief Justice was able to get an emergency hearing in the High Court and a judge granted an injunction to prohibit the police from arresting Sharma, an unprecedented scenario.
Those allegations were never determined and the charges were never formally filed as the matter was referred to be determined via mediation, which was never completed.
The surgeon and his second spouse, Seeromani Maharaj-Naraynsingh, were accused of hiring a contract killer to murder his estranged wife, Chandra Naraynsingh. They were eventually freed.
Almost a year after the first damning allegations, then Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls complained to Jeremie that Sharma attempted to influence his decision in the Panday case.
The complaint was made nearing the conclusion of the criminal trial against the former prime minister who was charged with failing to disclose a London bank account held jointly with his wife to the Integrity Commission.
McNicolls claimed Sharma, on more than one occasion attempted to influence him to rule in favour of the former prime minister and had even requested a draft copy of his decision prior to delivery.
The Chief Magistrate said he avoided the Chief Justice before he handed down his ruling in the Panday matter - he found the former prime minister guilty and sentenced him to two years in jail.
Panday later appealed and was granted a retrial. The charges were eventually stayed on the basis that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that they were politically motivated.
In November 2006, Sharma was formally charged with attempting to pervert the course of public justice in the Panday matter.
Four months later, McNicolls opted to not testify and Sharma was discharged.
McNicolls never disclosed the reason for his shocking decision even up to the time of his death on December 14, 2012.
In a bold move after he was discharged, Sharma dusted off his judicial robes and resumed office until his retirement in January 2008.
He was succeeded by Justice of Appeal Ivor Archie, who is now the centre of a legal quagmire, over allegations of misconduct in public office.
The Law Association is challenging Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s decision not to invoke Section 137 of the Constitution to investigate the serious allegations against the sitting Chief Justice.