Perversion of justice

THE STATISTICS presented by Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHCR) in Washington DC on Monday shed new light on what should be a matter of grave national concern.

That there are unacceptable delays within the local criminal justice system comes as no surprise to anyone. However, Antoine disclosed figures that demonstrate how the justice system has been effectively perverted in a way that seriously undermines confidence in our ability to uphold constitutional rights and the rule of law.

“Alarmingly, TT has the second highest remand population in the region, second only to Haiti, with some 60 per cent of prisoners on remand,” she told Organisation of American States (OAS) officials. “The majority of persons suffering in our jails have not even been found guilty of any crime.”

It is not hard to understand why Antoine’s presentation shocked members of the IAHCR panel at the OAS. She said that of the more than 2,271 prisoners on remand in TT, 34 per cent, or one-third, have been incarcerated for more than five years, while 12.5 per cent have been on remand awaiting trial for more than ten. She said that, incredibly, there is a person in jail in TT awaiting trial for the past 21 years.

“In June 2019, we saw the latest example of such travesties when three men, who had been on remand for ten years, were found innocent and acquitted of murder,” Antoine said.

The dean repeated her statement made at the opening of the law term last week about women being affected disproportionately by these violations. But also presented statistics quantifying the problem.

“An alarming 58.5 per cent (nearly two-thirds) of women remanded on charges of murder are victims of domestic violence, at least those we know of. Some of these women have been on remand for over 12 years, awaiting trial,” she said.

These figures are in stark contrast to this country’s efforts to present itself to the world as a country poised to attain developed-nation status. They paint a picture of a backward society in which the criminal courts, through either lassitude or neglect, are responsible for gross violations of basic human rights.

“I am shocked,” said Margarette May Macaulay, IAHCR rapporteur, in reaction to Antoine’s presentation. “Absolutely shocked!”

The Government – and we use this word in a sense that is non-partisan and embraces all political parties – must as a matter of urgency seek to bring about solutions to this problem.

The Ministry of the Attorney General must, as a matter of utmost urgency, take steps to assess the statistics presented by Antoine. Cabinet must consider emergency measures such as the convening of the Mercy Committee and the establishment of special courts to dispose of the backlog. And Parliament must deliberate on measures that can be unanimously passed in order to rectify the damage caused by decades of shameful neglect.

This madness must end.


"Perversion of justice"

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