Friday 7th March, 2008

 

Judge fears T&T may become failed state

 
 
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Mark Mohammed

Case collapses

  • Second witness suffers amnesia.
  • Two now facing charges of contempt, perjury, among others.

By Jada Loutoo

A HIGH Court judge is warning that T&T could be coursing down a path to becoming a failed state, if the blame game affecting the criminal justice system does not stop.

Justice Mark Mohammed’s incisive words came after two key witnesses scuttled the prosecution’s case by claiming forgetfulness in a murder trial, leading to the collapse of the prosecution of a URP foreman charged with the 2005 murder of another URP foreman on the Brian Lara Grounds in Santa Cruz.

The two, who turned hostile in the witness box, claimed that they did not know Brian Kemkeran’s shooter.

As Justice Mohammed, who presided over Keisa Sealey’s trial, referred to the bouts of amnesia suffered by the two during the trial, he said:

“What happened today in this case, which is not an isolated occurrence, reveals that the criminal justice system, in its broadest sense, presently faces very serious challenges, more serious, than at any other time in this country’s history.

“The very fabric of our society is being eroded as a consequence. Viewed objectively, there can be no issue of greater importance on the national agenda; absolutely none.

“If left unabated. Trinidad and Tobago may well find itself on an inexorable path to becoming a failed state.”

Both “amnesia” victims—Steffon Brown and Saddique Mohammed—are facing possible charges of contempt, perjury, perverting the course of public justice, and wasting the police time, as a result of their changed testimony.

Brown and Mohammed claimed that they had no recollection of Kemkeran’s murder on August 31, 2005.

They repeatedly insisted they did not remember saying Sealey was the shooter, even after they were taken through their depositions and witness statements by prosecutor Sabrina Dougdeen.

Mohammed, also a URP foreman in Sea Lots, even offered an excuse for his forgetfulness, saying he was beaten while in prison and was suffering from diabetes.

Justice Mohammed echoed the vitriolic response of his colleague Justice Anthony Carmona, when he, too, was forced to speak out after the prosecution of two men, charged with murder, also collapsed in similar fashion.

In that case, the witness expressed fear that going against a peace pact agreed to by rival gangs in the Laventille district would lead to his death.

Carmona was then stinging in his condemnation of the distinctions being made to the killings of young men and to those who held the view that there were no criminal links to the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP).

Yesterday, Justice Mohammed said there were solutions that were not out of reach.

“It is time to stop playing the blame game and time to identify hard, viable solutions,” he said, offering his own suggestions which included:

n That the fair trial rights of all accused persons are scrupulously protected, so that possible knee-jerk reactions don’t contaminate the process of evidence evaluation.

n That the rights of witnesses are properly ensured and safeguarded.

n That criminal investigations are of high quality and integrity, with greater reliance on scientific evidence such as DNA evidence...and the possibility of videotaping alleged confession statements.

n That jurors be appropriately educated and sensitised to their roles in the criminal justice system.

n That public confidence in the jury system ultimately be restored and maintained.

“I wish to state that the judiciary is fully committed to performing its prescribed constitutional role, but all institutional players need to step up to the plate,” the judge said.

The time for talk, he added, was “decisively over.”

“What happened today in this case, which is not an isolated occurrence, reveals that the criminal justice system, in its broadest sense, presently faces very serious challenges, more serious, than at any other time in this country’s history.”

—High Court judge Mark Mohammed, speaking in court yesterday.

Keisa Sealey leaves Port-of-Spain High Court a free man, after he was acquitted of murder yesterday.
Photo: Jennifer Watson