CLINT CHAN TACK AND JADA LOUTOO
FORMER Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma has died at the age of 76.
He was this country’s eight post-Independence Chief Justice, having been appointed in 2002. Sharma, 76, died at his home in Maraval yesterday. He was recently diagnosed with cancer and was receiving treatment.
The recipient of the Trinity Cross in 2003, he received the Chaconia Medal (gold) in 1998 for his contribution to the development of law.
He retired from the Judiciary in 2008 after being cleared by an independent tribunal in an impeachment probe investigating allegations of an alleged attempt to pervert the course of public justice. He also enjoyed cricket, often walked around the Queen’s Park Savannah on evenings and listened to classical Indian, Swahili and other African music and old-time calypsoes.
Hailing from a family of lawyers, he was called to the Bar in 1966 and was appointed to the Supreme Court in TT in 1983 as a Puisne judge and then elevated to the Court of Appeal in 1988.
He began his legal practice in 1968, first in the Magistrates’ Courts, and later in the High Court.
In its publication celebrating 50 years of an Independent Court of Appeal, published by the Judiciary’s Judicial Education Institute, Sharma was remembered as a fearless and fair judge who contributed significantly to the region’s jurisprudence. Most of his landmark judgments were upheld in the Privy Council.
The institute said, “Sharma came in determined to heal fractured relationships between Bench and Bar; to improve physical conditions; to introduce mechanisms to ameliorate the backlog of cases in the magistracy; and to staff all courts with Computer Aided Transcription reporters.”
As news of his death spread, many also remembered him as a man who was passionate about the law and TT. In a statement, President Paula-Mae Weekes said she knew Sharma from the early 1990’s, from a lawyer to chief justice. In all his incarnations, Weekes said Sharma was “a wise, compassionate, fair and empathetic man which qualities were often reflected in his erudite judgements.” She added, “From judge to janitor it was apparent that Mr. Justice Sharma cared deeply for all in his charge.”
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said Sharma led a “distinguished life of service to the people of TT in multiple capacities of existence from lawyer to chief justice. He said Sharma “gave his all for the peace, order and good governance of our country” and “TT stands darker in the absence of his light.”
The Judiciary, in a statement, said “will be remembered for his administrative leadership and a humility that endeared him to staff at all levels.” The Judiciary also said Sharma’s tenure was marked by several landmark decisions. These included the roll out of the new civil procedure rules of the supreme court and the introduction of the family court project.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said, “Although he faced significant personal challenges during his term as Chief Justice, he met these challenges with dignity and resolve.” She said during his career, Sharma led some of “the most dynamic and innovative reforms within our judicial system which remain in effect up to this very day.”
Former chief justice Michael de la Bastide said he knew Sharma when he returned from England to practice law in 1966. “We were good friends. I had a lot of respect for him as a judge and as a man”. While they did not always agree on issues during their tenure as judges of the Appeal Court, de la Bastide said he and Sharma respected each other’s views. He added, “He was a genuine person and quite a humble man. I shall miss him very dearly.”
In what seemed to be a reference to allegations made against Chief Justice Ivor Archie, Panday said, “It would be very interesting to compare what the state did to Sat Sharma to what is happening now.” He added, “ I think an analysis of that would give an indication of the society we live in.” Panday remembered Sharma as “a very good judge, a pleasant man and a good chief justice.”
Attorney Israel Khan SC said, “ It is a sad day. We have lost an eminent jurist.” According to Khan, Sharma’s knowledge of the law was impeccable. He recalled, “An accusation was made against him while he was chief justice and he faced both criminal charges and a Section 137 tribunal as a strong man.”
Khan added that Sharma “had the testicular fortitude to allow due process to take place and he was eventually completely exonerated.”