'DON'T RUSH US'
By Jada Loutoo Tuesday, September 18 2012
EARLY proclamation of the controversial Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act would have led to chaos for the Judiciary, Chief Justice Ivor Archie said yesterday as he officially opened the 2012/2013 law term.
In his first public statement on the rushed proclamation of the contentious Section 34, Archie said the Judiciary “had never discussed or contemplated partial implementation” of the legislation which was intended to abolish preliminary inquiries for serious criminal cases.
Section 34 which saw accused persons petitioning the courts for freedom from prosecution for decades-old cases was repealed by both Houses of Parliament last week and assented to by the President almost immediately thereafter.
In his wide-ranging address on issues affecting the Judiciary at the Convocation Hall of the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain, Archie said, “It has always been our position, and we so advised, that implementation could not realistically take place before the first quarter of 2013 and we in the Judiciary have never discussed or contemplated partial implementation.”
As he spoke of the number of cases filed in the criminal courts — over 14,000 annually — the Chief Justice said emphatically the Judiciary will not be rushed into the process of eliminating preliminary inquiries.
“All the ducks must be lined up or chaos will ensue right after start-up and we will simply create a fresh and intractable backlog,” the Chief Justice said.
“It is clear that any new system that is put in place will have to absorb a huge influx of new matters in addition to those already in the system for which transitional arrangements have to be made,” Archie pointed out.
“We have nevertheless agreed to a very ambitious timeline and start-up is now set for the beginning of January 2013. We are working assiduously towards its fulfillment, but we will start when we are ready. We must and will resist any temptation to make a premature start in the eagerness to demonstrate ‘performance’,” he said emphatically.
Archie has not been the first to say the Judiciary was not consulted on the contentious clause. Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard said the proclamation of Section 34 also took him by surprise as he was unaware of it and so too the Criminal Bar Association, which said the clause was never part of the draft legislation sent to them for their input.
The association’s president Pamela Elder, SC, said it was their recommendation that the entire piece of legislation be implemented in two years to allow for the readiness of all stakeholders in the criminal justice system.
According to the Chief Justice, courtrooms, registries, and monitoring and compliance units have to be established, as well as new positions created and staff, including judges and Masters as well as counter staff, recruited. “Most of these activities are sequential. We are still in the process of identifying and outfitting suitable physical spaces, although draft criminal procedure rules are now available for comment and finalisation,” Archie noted.
According to the Chief Justice, it is a “mammoth undertaking” which took more than a year between passage of similar legislation and implementation in other jurisdictions. He expects the reform in the criminal justice system to become a reality early next year and the ultimate goal of the new process, he said, would make the court more accessible, secure, convenient and cost effective.
“It should soon be possible for criminal charge information to be entered on arrest, with access to the DPP, moved electronically to the court and from there to the prisons with any additional information in respect of court orders or dispositions,” he noted.
The Chief Justice again advocated the need for the Judiciary to be truly independent of the Executive as well as the need for constitutional reform, as he did last year, before an audience of mainly judges and members of the legal profession, which also included Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan.
Archie’s address at last year’s opening of the 2011/2012 law term was delivered in the midst of the state of emergency implemented by Government.
And while many others commented on the controversy surrounding the early implementation of the controversial Section 34, the Prime Minister did not make herself available for questions from the media, which has become a regular occurrence in the recent past. She left the Hall of Justice immediately after the Chief Justice’s address.
Former president of the Caribbean Court of Justice and Chief Justice of TT, Michael de La Bastide, while acknowledging that he had very strong views on the topic, chose not to address the “highly publicised and political” issue while standing on the steps of the building he once had control over.
He said Archie’s speech however offered many interesting suggestions to the improvement of efficiency in the Judiciary.
And while the Attorney General continued to place blame for the Section 34 on the Parliament, saying it was a parliamentary oversight, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley was adamant that the rush proclamation was never intended by the Parliament.
“Parliament was clear as to what should happen,” he said, adding that those seated opposite the government benches were adamant that the legislation be properly done for implementation.
Over the last week there has been public outcry and condemnation of Government’s decision to have proclaimed the singular section, and although Ramlogan said the time had come to move on from the issue, one religious leader says this is not enough.
The Very Reverend Dean Collin Sampson, at the start of the Service of Divine Worship, at the Trinity Cathedral, Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain, told the congregation, forgiveness was not sufficient but what was required was acknowledgment and confession of what went wrong so as not to cause a repeat.
He said he was discomforted by what played out in Parliament over the controversial legislative clause, but noted that fears of political malfeasance and possible betrayal of oaths were assuaged by some of the debate in the Parliament during the repeal process.
He urged those in authority to remain “sober, alert and vigilant” warning that “God does not sleep” in “this new era of sobriety.”
His admonition of the rush passage of the controversial section was not heard by the Prime Minister who arrived just as he ended his welcome address and had to be quickly ushered through the southern entrance of the church by her security officers.
Also commenting on the issue of independence of the Judiciary as well as the making and executions of laws was President George Maxwell Richards, who did not directly comment on the Section 34 imbroglio, during his first precedent-setting address at the opening of the law term at the Trinity Cathedral. It is also expected to be Richards’ only address at such an event as his presidency ends next year.
In his remarks, the President said it appeared that the difference between making law and executing or application of the law was not clearly understood by all.
“This uninformed position must not be allowed to develop, lest encroachment upon the domain of the Judiciary become a feature of our way of life,” he noted.
Immediately after the Divine Church Service, the Chief Justice, his judges, magistrates and other members of the legal profession walked along Abercromby Street, stopping at the Hall of Justice, Knox Street, where the Chief Justice inspected and took the salute by the Guard of Honour.
Amidst the watchful eyes of heavily armed police and army personnel, members of the public gathered inside Woodford Square looking on at the annual spectacle, before dispersing when the ceremony ended and invited guests made their way inside the Hall of Justice for the Chief Justice’s address.