A sentence long passed

Sean Luke -
Sean Luke -

EVEN before Justice Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds handed down her sentence on Wednesday on two individuals convicted of his murder, Sean Luke had already become a byword for the failings of this country’s justice system.

For all the advancement represented by the fact that this was a judge-alone trial – which would have been unimaginable mere months ago – nothing could reverse the fact that this was a murder that took place more than 15 years ago.

So much time had passed that every single stakeholder involved in the case had been transformed in some way: the victim’s family; the accused; the prosecuting authorities; the police officials involved and the lawyers representing the parties (to the extent that it emerged there had even been an unacceptable overlap of roles).

The only person whose destiny remained fixed was Sean Luke himself, killed, aged six, in a cane field a stone’s throw away from his home at Couva.

It is a mark of failure that the State took so long for a judicial outcome to be arrived at. For this delay alone, few could deem the sentence eventually handed down by the judge as “justice.”

But there is now debate over the merits of the actual sentence passed, the factors considered by the judge, the weight ascribed to those individual factors, the handling of evidence over the years, the myriad rulings on legal points, the impact of existing rules and the appropriateness of the entire exercise at this point, after so much has altered.

Depending on who you ask, you will get different answers about the soundness of the approaches taken (and it is highly likely appeals will be lodged). But what all agree with is that they are unhappy, in some crucial respect, with what has transpired.

It was impossible for the judge to please everybody. After travelling for the last few months, as though through some sick time machine, back to 2006, the general population is left not with a sense of comfort but rather dissatisfaction.

All of it has been at the expense of Sean Luke and his family, the latter of whom have had their trauma stretched out, sadistically, over years.

That’s the real indictment here.

The days when trials take decades to happen must become a thing of the past.

Many changes to criminal procedure have occurred over the years and there has been attention to the need for more judges to implement the rules. It is hoped the move to virtual trials will mean cases of this type will be, moving forward, a thing of the past.

But the age-old issues of the quality and speed of police work; the resources available to prosecutorial authorities; the standards at the criminal bar – have those issues gone away?

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