Sunday 24th December, 2006

Anand Ramlogan
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Weak justice system exposed

The country is reeling from the shock of the kidnapping of Vindra Naipaul. She is one of the most humble, charitable and spiritual people I have had the pleasure of meeting.

All the good things that you may have read about her are true and a lot more can be said. Another woman snatched. Another Indian business person and their family traumatised and hurt in the country of their birth.

The Guardian editorial got it right when it stated it was now clear that the Government could not guarantee the safety of its citizens. How on earth did we get to this stage?

The timing of the kidnapping could not be more embarrassing politically.

The Government was just boasting about a significant decrease and asking for an extension to its no-bail for kidnappers’ bill.

Problem is that ad hoc law has been in place for the past year and it still hasn’t solved the problem. The short point is you have to first catch the kidnapper to refuse him bail.

More importantly, the weakness of the criminal justice system has been exposed and laid bare for all to see, as kidnappers and murderers walk out of the Hall of Justice smiling.

The police can’t catch them, and the criminal justice system cannot effectively prosecute the ones that are caught.

This law will not solve anything. It is like fixing a leak when the whole roof needs changing.

Given the enormous resources at its disposal, shouldn’t the Government get its priorities in order and pump money into the administration of justice?

Instead of trying to deny bail to kidnappers and ensure a speedy trial, shouldn’t the objective be to provide an efficient and effective system of criminal justice, in which all serious cases are tried within 90 days?

Gerald Gopaul was kidnapped and beheaded in July, 2005. The preliminary inquiry has only just begun. It’s not the magistrates and the judges to blame.

They work tirelessly. The backlog that led to the resignation of Justice David Myers is testimony to this. He was/is a fair and hard-working judge, and it was a joy to present cases before him.

He is a victim of an overworked, under-resourced judiciary, and paid the ultimate price for his early enthusiasm. I’m going to miss him.

This is not to say that the judiciary is perfect. Listen to the plight of Pundit Chaitram Hargobin, from Ramai Trace in Debe, whose family was robbed and brutalised.

Pundit walked in on the robbery in broad daylight and was chased by four youths. Save one, they were eventually captured by the police, who had to wade through a lagoon to hold them.

The gold they had just stolen from Pundit’s home was found in the men’s pockets. Their getaway car was still in Pundit’s yard, where it crashed in a failed attempt to run him over.

Although one bandit escaped, three were held. The case was called twice in Siparia Magistrates Court, and the court was informed that the pundit was receiving threats.

He was being asked to drop the case or else his family would be kidnapped. Incredibly, bail was granted by the court in these circumstances.

They silenced a two-year-old girl by forcing a cushion on her face. They were caught red-handed, with the jewelry on them.

If they make bail, then the court has put the pundit’s family at serious risk. Why should such a matter even be adjourned?

Martin Joseph might be right in saying that debt-collection by musclemen is what started kidnappings, but what he does not realise is that this is in itself a direct consequence of the failing justice system.

Businessmen are forced to turn to strongmen to bully and intimidate debtors, because it takes way too long to get justice in the courts.

It is a crime to write a “bounce cheque,” but unless you have connections in the Police Service, you simply cannot get them to charge and prosecute anyone.

Some officers even demand a “small fee” or percentage from businessmen to provide this service.

The breakdown of law and order is a direct result of the Government’s failure to improve the administration of justice.

No amount of ole talk can change that!

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