Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Geoffrey Henderson has
instructed Police Commissioner Trevor Paul, that no criminal charges
be laid against Housing Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who had been accused
of assaulting Opposition UNC MP Chandresh Sharma on September 15.
In a memorandum dated November 12, Henderson wrote
to Paul that "having balanced the factors for and against
prosecution carefully, and recognising that an alternative course of
action has already been engaged, in my view it is not in the public
interest that criminal proceedings should be instituted.
"I have done so on the basis that any decision
taken in this matter may generate strong political sentiments on
either side of the fence."
Copies of Henderson’s memo were sent to both
Sharma and Rowley. Henderson’s memo also stated that Parliament
possessed disciplinary powers over its members in the conduct of its
"It is the availability and efficacy of these
powers as an alternative to prosecution that I consider to be a
compelling public interest factor against prosecution," he said.
Contacted by the media over the weekend, Rowley said
he was not aware that criminal charges would not be brought against him.
"I am in Tobago, and I have not seen the letter," Rowley
Henderson, when contacted said: "I set out
fully the reasons for my decisions not to authorise criminal
proceedings in my memo to the Commissioner."
If he were to be prosecuted and found guilty,
Rowley would have been liable, on summary conviction, to a fine of (TT)
$2,000 and imprisonment for 12 months, sources told the media.
Henderson said in his memo that it was an offence
to assault a member within the the precincts of the House. However, he
said there were two stages in the decision to prosecute, the
evidential test and the public interest test. Henderson said if the
case met the evidential test, it must be decided whether a prosecution
was needed in the public interest.
He said the factors which operated in favour of
proceeding with a prosecution would include looking at the seriousness
of the offence and the need for deterrence. The more serious the
offence, the more likely it would be that the public interest would
require that a prosecution be pursued, he said, and that the public
interest must be considered in each case where there was sufficient
material to pass the evidential test.
Rowley had been accused of assaulting Sharma on the
afternoon of September 15 in the Members’ Lounge. Present were MPs
Roodal Moonilal (UNC), Stanford Callender (PNM) and Kelvin Ramnath (UNC).
Prabha Singh, a food and beverage hostess employed by the clerk of the
House, was also in the room. It was reported that while in the lounge,
an argument ensued between Sharma and Rowley, after which Sharma
alleged that Rowley struck him with his left hand on the right side of
his face and chest. Additionally, Mr Sharma alleged that Rowley threw
two remote controls, a cordless telephone and a teacup, and that the
teacup struck him on his hand, fell and broke.
Sharma’s allegation, sources said, received
support from Moonilal and Ramnath.
A medical report was submitted and Sharma was
reported to be suffering from soft tissue injury to his face, chest
and right hand.
Rowley was interviewed under caution on September
23 and denied the allegations.
His denial received direct support from Callender
and circumstantially, from Singh, the media was told.
Henderson warned that a prosecution should not be
instituted unless there was a prima facie case against an accused.
"The evidence must be such that a tribunal of
fact, properly instructed on the relevant law, can conclude beyond a
reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the offence charged.
"The evidential test is a separate test from
the one that the criminal courts themselves must apply. A jury or a
magistrates’ court should only convict if satisfied, so that it is
sure of an accused’s guilt. It therefore follows that criminal
charges (based on witnesses’ statements) do not always result in
convictions (based on witnesses' evidence that has been tested on
On noting that Parliament had disciplinary powers
over its members, Henderson said by use of these powers, Parliament
could "safeguard and enforce its authority without the delay to
which recourse to the ordinary courts could give rise."
Parliament can summon and examine witnesses through
the Privileges Committee, which then reports to Parliament on its
finding and makes recommendations.