Warner: We all made a mistake
Thursday, September 20 2012
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Section 34 march: Hundreds march along Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain, on Tuesday, in support of an Opposition PNM-led petition seeking answers of G...
GOVERNMENT ministers told Chief Justice Ivor Archie that the State would proclaim the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act “in toto” or in its entirety, a mere weeks before the Cabinet, behind closed doors, resolved to partially proclaim Section 34, ahead of an overall proclamation effective January 2, 2012.
This time-line emerged yesterday after Minister of National Security Jack Warner, in a television interview, disclosed details of the meeting with the Chief Justice. He described Section 34 itself as “a mistake” on the part of all parliamentarians and admitted that while the Government has repealed the section, a door may still be open for persons to apply for relief under the law.
The UNC chairman also lashed out against persons who are raising questions over the entire saga, describing the discourse as “histrionics”. MPs are “only human”, he said. Of the meeting with the Chief Justice, which was held at the Hall of Justice, Knox Street, Port-of-Spain, Warner said, “There was a meeting on July 24 at which meeting I was present, Minister of Justice Herbert Volney, Minister of Public Administration Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan and we gave a commitment that this act shall be proclaimed in toto.” About two weeks later, Volney would bring a Cabinet note for the proclamation of the Act, with a provision for early proclamation of Section 34, the section on discharge due to delay. The amended section dated delay from the time of the crime, not the start of legal proceedings. Warner said while there have been questions over the reason for the early proclamation, this was moot.
“You could only have proclaimed that section if the Act was passed already,” he said. “Don’t give me that academic division. You could not proclaim the section if the Act itself had not been passed and the Act was passed by the Parliament unanimously.”
“That proclamation was to expedite the process whereby the backlog of claims could be attended to,” Warner said. “We are looking at January 2, 2013, for total proclamation but you put in place a total system whereby the backlog of cases can be attended to...There are guys who are languishing in prison who may be innocent and cannot get bail.” He did not refer to statistics. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard SC has said there were 47 matters to which the section applied.
Warner dismissed concerns as “histrionics”.
“I won’t join in the kind of histrionics that is outside there,” he said. “What I am saying to you is that in the prisons today there are over 40,000 people. In the caseload today there are over 500,000 cases for 40 magistrates. This Act had a noble intent; a genuine intent which a section may have given the impression otherwise. And the intention of this Act was to free the backlog of cases to free the guys who have been languishing in jail for ten years whose cases have not been heard to give them a chance to come to court and to have the matter settled in order that their lives can begin afresh.” He said the Parliament made a mistake.
“It is a fact, and I will say this to my grave, it is a mistake by the Parliament, not the Government, the Parliament,” he said. He said there needed to be action on the abolition of the preliminary inquiry.
“If in this country we wait until we ready to do things, some things will not be done at all and I say that as a minister. Minister Volney wanted to expedite that process for the guys languishing in jail. If Mr Volney took the decision to proclaim the section later, the section would still have been bad. If the whole Act is proclaimed, the section would still have been bad,” Warner said.
Warner admitted that notwithstanding the Parliament’s rushed repeal of Section 34, applicants might still have a window of opportunity to sue the State.
“It is a process. No window has been closed other than the repeal which has been done,” he said.
He defended the Government.
“No government passes a law that would benefit two or three persons,” he said. “That is the spin that is being put on it and the spin that is being put on it has to be corrected. This is a bill that has been approved by Parliament by even the Independent senators. I mean one of them has apologised, I take it, for that. Even the Independent senators who do not have any political allegiance on paper, they also approved it.”
He said the Government has not had a “dismissive attitude”.