SOMETHING like this was bound to happen sooner or later. In a world saturated with social media, that high-profile fugitives from the law turned to social media to make their primetime debut was inevitable. The video recording in which Olatungi Denbow and Michael Findley appear is another sign of a complete disregard for law and order.
That such a video could be made, uploaded and openly disseminated across communication networks that rely on state infrastructure will be regarded as yet another embarrassment for the law enforcement authorities already reeling from the humiliation of the initial escape and the grounding of a national security helicopter.
It’s the kind of thing that might happen in a soap opera like No Boundaries – a development that makes people ask whether TT is a real place. But the dire realities facing the criminal justice system are no figment of the imagination.
We hold no brief for those who flee justice but delays in the system continue to undermine the presumption of innocence to the extent that the very notion of justice is challenged. On the one hand, we now have fugitives asking via online videos for their trial to start when through their actions they remove themselves from the reach of the courts. Whatever grouses they may have with state witnesses, naming such witnesses and slandering them live on social media is not an appropriate way to challenge evidence.
For good reason, trials provide a means of challenging testimony in courtrooms where the facts as alleged by the prosecution can be tested. The public cannot be asked, via Facebook, to adjudicate on what jurors and judges, appraised of all the relevant facts, spend months carefully sifting through.
As we are now clearly in a new age, serious thought should be given to developing standards and protocols to deal with direct appeals made on social media by people accused of wrong. How is the State to balance freedom of expression with the need to protect legal processes from pre-trial publicity?
At the same time, we must implore authorities to act on complaints raised about the prison service. We have already called, on this page, for a national inquiry into prison conditions considering a range of events, starting with the deadly jailbreak of 2015 in Port of Spain right up to this month’s development. At the very least, the complaints raised by senior prison officials, since 2013, over poor lighting at the Remand Yard at Golden Grove Prison, Arouca, should be addressed.
The report requested by Prisons Commissioner Gerard Wilson will undoubtedly shed more light. But the timeline for the submission of this report – a full 30 days – is simply too long given the urgency of this matter. While stagnant bureaucracy is holding the justice system back, fugitives are exploiting the latest technology to suit their agendas.