A TRIAL date has been set for taking evidence in the criminal complaint against Jamaat al Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr for refusing to answer a summons before the commission of enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup.
At a case management hearing on Monday, Port of Spain Third Court magistrate Sarah De Silva gave directions for the progress of the matter, which included setting August 17 for the trial.
After being told there was no stay in place, De Silva ordered the prosecution to serve filed witness statements on Bakr by July 14 and for him to file his defence by August 14.
Expected to testify are Cpl Terrance Ramsepaul, who served Bakr with the summons he is accused of ignoring, and the former secretary to the commission, Laraine Lutchmedial, who filed the private criminal complaint against Bakr on behalf of the commission, in accordance with sections 12 and 16 of the Commission of Enquiry Act.
Earlier, attorneys representing the commission submitted at a telephone conference hearing that there was nothing preventing the magistrate from giving directions.
At an even earlier virtual hearing, Justice Nadia Kangaloo said she was not minded to grant a temporary stay of the magisterial proceedings, since there was no evidence before her that the magistrate had given any directions.
“I don’t see any harm in it going on today and it being adjourned. The challenge this court has is asking the magistrate to hold strain with her case management directions, when what I do not have, at this stage, is evidence she has done anything beyond her duty in her attempt to manage the matter.
“I only have the deponent’s say-so. This court cannot say she acted outside her jurisdiction in case-managing the matter.
“If he (Bakr) is challenging the undue expedition or progress of the matter, for whatever reason, the court has to be furnished with better evidence,” she said.
She has adjourned the matter to August 18 to give Bakr’s attorneys Criston J Williams and Jerome Riley an opportunity to amend their judicial review application possibly to include the Commissioner of Police.
Williams said he has asked for certain information from the commissioner in a freedom of information request on police killings from 2000-present, and the commissioner had 30 days in which to respond.
Last week, Bakr’s attorneys filed a judicial review application in which Bakr is seeking a declaration that the continuation of the prosecution of him is irrational and tantamount to an abuse of process. He wants an order to stay the matter in the magistrates’ court.
According to the application, although the commission referred the matter to DPP Roger Gaspard, who took the position he would not lay charges against Bakr, it went ahead and filed the private criminal complaints in accordance with the Commission of Enquiry Act.
The matter was first heard, and the testimony taken, before then chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar. It was one of the part-heard matters before her and was transferred to a new magistrate.
However, the application says the DPP had the power to discontinue, at any stage before judgment is delivered, criminal proceedings instituted either by himself or any other person or authority.
It also contended that with the covid19 pandemic, its effect on already overburdened trial courts was unpredictable, confusing and complex and from a practical perspective, there was the issue of delay.
Bakr failed to appear before the commission on two occasions – August 29, 2012, and September 23, 2013.
When he first failed to appear, Bakr cited a then ongoing case against him in the High Court. The second time he said he would appear only if he was paid to give evidence.
If convicted of the complaint of refusing to appear before the commission, Bakr is liable to a $2,000 fine.
Prosecuting Bakr on behalf of the commission are Senior Counsel Israel Khan and attorneys Larry Lalla and Michael Rooplal. Bakr is unprepresented in the matter before the magistrates' court.
In the matter before Justice Kangaloo, deputy Solicitor General Neal Byam appeared and said the State is expected to retain Ian Benjamin, SC, to lead its case.