THE physical closure of courts in Trinidad and Tobago owing to the covid19 pandemic could have an effect on the hearing of legal matters where the death penalty could be involved.
Law Association president Sophia Chote. SC. expressed this opinion during a virtual forum on the death penalty on Friday.
The forum was hosted by several foreign missions in TT, including the British High Commission, and the French and US embassies.
Chote said the association "has not yet taken a position on whether the death penalty or not." While she is the association's president, Chote said she does not speak for its council.
"I imagine it is a matter on which our members could be quite divided."
Personally, Chote said she is against the death penalty, a position she has maintained since 1989. After recalling the last time the death penalty was carried out in TT was 1999, Chote said, "There are 44 persons on death row in TT, according to my research."
Murder remains a capital offence, she pointed out, "despite the fact that there have been recommendations for consideration to be given to the categorisation of murder, coming from public officials, including our Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)."
Saying Section 4 of the Constitution contains the entrenched rights of citizens, such as the right to life, Chote said a person can only be deprived of this right by due process of law, which includes transparency and accountability.
She said normally trials are held in public, interested parties can attend and they may be reported on in the media. Chote said the media reported earlier this year Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi saying Government was not against hanging, but certain processes had to be "fixed" in order to implement the death penalty.
Chote said Al-Rawi may have been saying "the time from charge until the end of the legal process..,that is to say, the final appeal, takes such a very long time.
In light of this, she added, "Having regard to the impact which the pandemic and the continuing court closures have had on the criminal justice system in TT...it is my view that the system has slowed down tremendously."
Chote said the backlog of cases in the system, which was considerable before the pandemic, "is now expected to be considerably larger." She said there are now people in prison who have been awaiting their first trial for periods of time exceeding eight years.
"That cannot be acceptable in any state or from any point of view."
Chote added, "This is one challenge in my view, which we face with respect to cases such as these."
Arguing a case to retain the death penalty, attorney Israel Khan, SC, said, "It is my belief that the death penalty should be retained for deliberate, wicked and attrocious murders."
Khan said he was one of those who advocate for murders to be classified into first, second and third degrees.
"No bail for first-degree, but discretionary bail for second- and third-(degree)."
He said the death penalty should be reserved for first-degree and custodial sentences for second- and third-degree murders, subject to parole.
Khan identified the killing of a person for money or people being killed to prevent them from providing evidence in court as examples of first-degree murder. Use of excessive force in self-defence or murders as a result of passion could be classified as second- or third-degree murders.