IN addition to witnesses being afraid to testify against criminal suspects, Independent Senator Sophia Chote SC on Tuesday said witnesses in civil matters (such as property disputes) are now likewise fearful of coming to court.
She spoke in the Senate on a bill to speed up trials, the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) (Amendment)(No 2) Bill, 2019, that lets the Director of Public Prosecutions DPP file a case in matters of a violent or sexual nature where a child an adult witness is subject to “threats, intimidation or elimination.”
“There have been cases where police officers have suggested to prosecutors that a witness is not coming forward because the witness is intimidated or fearful,” Chote said of criminal cases. “The fact of the matter is that my experience is that even in civil cases now are afraid to come to court. Even for the smallest cases you find witnesses being afraid.”
Chote hoped Parliament’s work could have more effect at ground level in the courts.
“I implore the Honourable Attorney General and those on the Government side to recognise that there is a growing divide between what we do here as part of the legislative process and how the judicial system and the legislation operate in the court houses around the country. It’s excellent we are trying to move forward with the legislation but we are hoping that when we legislate it has an impact on the wider community. Unfortunately we are not yet seeing that.”
Chote was very upset that Rio Claro Magistrates Court sits only from 9 am-10.45 am daily, after which the courthouse is taken over by the Princes Town Magistrates Court sitting from 11 am to 12.45 pm.
“A person on a murder charge who is brought by 10.30 am has ten to fifteen minutes for his case to be heard on a given day before he is sent back to prison.
“If you have a domestic violence application to make in Rio Claro, if you don’t make it there between 9 am and 10.45 am, you can’t make it and you can’t face a magistrate for that particular day. This is the reality.”
While not criticising the Government, she said, “Please, let us have a connection between what we do here and the outcomes that we see in the court rooms on a daily basis.”