MINISTER in the Ministry of the Attorney General Fitzgerald Hinds has boasted about what the ministry has accomplished to date during the “Empower Me” open house recently.
He welcomed a number of stakeholders and schoolchildren to the forum and said when the PNM took office, a major part of the challenge facing the country was the economy and the burgeoning issue of crime and criminality. So government, he said, decided to use its office to improve law and justice to combat these burning issues.
He listed the Miscellaneous Provisions to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, the Bail Act, the Administration of Justice Act, the Child Rehabilitation Centre Act, the Children’s Authority Act, Children’s Community Residences Act, Foster Care and Nurseries Act, Children Act, Family and Children’s Act as having been taken to Parliament and passed and partially proclaimed.
Hinds said the children’s community residences, rehabilitation centres and the children’s community residences legislation has been partially proclaimed. The Miscellaneous Provisions Marriage Act saw child marriage outlawed.
The family and children division of the High Court, to deal with special legislation on family and child-related law, was also partially proclaimed.
ANTI-GANG ACT PASSED
In the criminal justice system, the Anti-Gang Act was eventually passed, and as far as the district and criminal traffic court is concerned, traffic matters were removed from the magistrates’ court and a penalty point system, out of the licensing office, was established to allow magistrates more time to deal with major court matters.
Amendments to the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act are awaiting proclamation. Hinds said: “We are now sorting out issues of the postal service, because notifications of your driving offence and the video-recorded footage of where you got caught on a spot speed camera have to be sent to the offenders by mail. So we have to treat with the mail system to make sure they get that right and the addresses right.” The Criminal Procedure Plea Discussion and Plea Agreement Act was recently amended to allow an accused person to plead guilty up front at the risk of a conviction of more severe sentence. “So he can plea-bargain with the office of the DPP on the strict provision of the law, the same law that was used by QC Vincent Nelson just days ago,” Hinds said, referring to a case involving charges against former attorney general Anand Ramlogan and attorney Gerald Ramdeen.
“White-collar crime is a major problem for all states and has a very adverse effect on the poor. When billions of dollars are creamed off the top, taxpayers are deprived of health benefits, housing, schools, etc.”
Hinds referred to the Piarco Airport corruption case, which is 20 years old. He said: “If the DPP feels that he can, he indicts and the matter goes straight to the High Court, cutting out 20 years of time. We are in the Parliament now wanting to remove that burdensome anachronism.”
NOT YET DEAD
An act was also passed and assented to indemnify magistrates against legal action and personal liability, while the Sexual Offences Act and the Evidence Amendment Bill 2019 are in the Senate. The latter allows for anonymous testimony and video testimony to protect witnesses.
The cyber crime law is also in the Parliament and amendments have been made to the Domestic Violence Act. Amendments to companies law and non-profit organisation law, Hinds said, are for greater transparency. Consultations on the decriminalisation of marijuana are now taking place and the law will soon be amended to suit.
On the Whistleblower Bill, Hinds said though it was defeated in the House, the government is not stepping away from it, and hinted that the Opposition wants it back in Parliament.
Hinds concluded: “We have strengthened the prosecutorial capacity of TT. We’ve gotten fresh accommodation for the office of the DPP in San Fernando, Tobago and Port of Spain. We have given him more staff, among them a couple QCs from England who are specialised in certain aspects of law and white-collar crime. They are now working with the Anti-Corruption Bureau and other departments of the police service.”