Both Houses of Parliament have now passed the Bail (Amendment)
Bill extending by three months the mandatory no bail provision
in the existing legislation for persons accused of kidnapping
for ransom. Needing a special majority, in the Lower House,
the COP joined with the PNM to ensure passage, while in the
Upper House, PNM and Independent Senators voted in support.
In both Houses, the UNC voted against.
There were two highly significant aspects to the debate in
the Lower House: the sharp contrast in the approach of the
divided opposition to politics and the national interest;
and the robust winding-up by the AG who confronted head-on
the taunts of the Opposition concerning the criminal justice
systems difficulties. Remarkably, the media have largely
ignored the AGs powerful and pointed response.
Clearly, the unity of the original UNC Parliamentary Opposition
was always tenuous since its members hold such profoundly
differing political views on critical national issues.
In introducing the Bail Bill, the AG updated the House on
the Breathalyser Bill, the DNA Bill, the Criminal Injuries
(Amdt) Bill and Regulations, and the Equal Opportunities Bill
(EOB) all of concern to the Opposition. They were previously
the subject of crime talks between Government and Opposition
and their enactment had been a condition of Opposition support
for the Police Reform Bills which, up to then, the UNC insisted
should be preceded by Constitution Reform.
The first two bills said the AG were before a Parliamentary
Joint Select Committee, Cabinet has approved the Criminal
Injuries Bill and all four Bills would be presented to the
House within 60 days. The AG promised a properly certified,
compliant with the Constitution EOB, would be among them in
contrast to UNCs hastily enacted EOB twice ruled unconstitutional
and currently on appeal to the Privy Council.
Separating the UNC and COP in this debate was their discordance
in approaching the public interest. Both sides were critical
of the Governments performance, but at crunch time UNC
opportunistically said no, COP, yes. Kamla claimed the Government
was not serious about dealing with crime but engaging in a
cosmetic public relations exercise. You cannot fight
crime, she insisted, if your justice system is
broken. The justice system
is totally broken and in
a state of collapse. What are you doing?
COPs support clearly reflected its political priority
of promoting the public interest. Caroni East MP Ganga Singh
said it most unambiguously: There are those who believe
that when they are in Opposition, the best approach for the
displacement of a government is to allow chaos to reign
therefore, in the promotion of chaos, you promote the unravelling
of the society regardless of the consequences
not and we on this side do not share that point of view. There
are those who believe in that unraveling
become the beneficiary
that would catapult them into
government. We on this side speak of the new politics that
transcends that kind of narrow parochial approach.
In response, the AG, blunt and brutal, clinically demolished
the UNC which he accused of failing the country miserably.
In denying its allegation that the Government was bent on
destroying certain persons instead of dealing with the criminal
justice system, the AG insisted the Governments first
task was returning the rule of law to T&T, ensuring one
law for all, rich or poor, big or small, former Prime Minister
or present AG.
The AG then advanced 12 reasons why the criminal justice system
was in difficulty: including problems at the topa Prime
Minister becoming a convicted criminal; difficulty with the
leadership of the justice system; a former AG on a criminal
charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice being
freed after the files from the preliminary enquiry mysteriously
disappeared and a witness for the prosecution in the said
matter murdered; the efforts of those who abuse our fundamental
rights and freedoms, so that the balance between the rights
of the individual and the rights of the many, lose equilibrium.
The goal of our criminal justice system, said the AG, must
be to punish the guilty, acquit the innocent, deter potential
perpetrators and rehabilitate offenders through a good state
prosecution service, a good court system, a good Criminal
Bar whose members recognise their duty to court, country and
client, good law enforcement services and a good citizenry
prepared to do its civic duty, because a weakened criminal
justice system is a problem for every T&T citizen. The
Government is acting in areas within its purview.
Additionally, a criminal court committee including representatives
from the Judiciary, the Ministry of the AG, the DPP, members
of the Criminal Bar has been meeting; consideration is being
given to the creation of a drug users court; the finalisation
of the regulations under the Justice Protection Act will allow
for its proclamation.
These may not be enough as Opposition, Government and this
newspaper have all implicitly recognised. Will Parliament
and media support the needed measures?
The Opposition Leader asked Why do you not put in place
the legislation that would really deal with crime? Why do
you not give the police the technology they need? COPs
Leader commended the DPP and read into Hansard remarks attributed
to the DPP: As a country, T&T had to consider
if other tools like wiretapping and recorded information should
not be admissible in court?
This newspaper, editorially, (29.3.05) called for an intelligence-driven
approach to crime management.
While the AG acknowledged: Whether we like it or not,
the effective administration of the criminal justice system
requires certain national security secrets and systems which
sometimes cannot be transparent, working with other governments
and also innovation
I have used the resources and continue
to use the resources of the US on every occasion that I can
do so, to bring wrong-doers to justice. This is what this
government has to do; faced with the realities on the ground
with our criminal justice system.
The national community must come to terms with complex issues
like these as it seeks satisfaction of its demand for public
safety and public order.
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