Caroni Central MP Arnold Ram expressed severe doubts about the Miscellaneous Provisions (Criminal Proceedings) Bill, 2021 while it was being debated in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The purpose of the bill is to amend the law to allow the retrial of persons who were acquitted of specific offences if there is new and compelling evidence, or the acquittal was tainted and "it is in the interest of justice that there be a retrial."
Applicable offences include but are not limited to: murder, treason, piracy or hijacking and offences for which death is the penalty fixed by law.
Ram raised the issue of precisely what would qualify as new and compelling evidence.
He said, "So you are asking a police officer to determine compelling evidence. A police officer, I am saying Madam Speaker, may not be in the best position to determine what is compelling evidence. You might know what is new evidence but you're asking them to do a legal interpretation of what is compelling evidence and I think that is why, in the United Kingdom, new evidence is defined separately from compelling evidence."
He said the terms were defined the same as they were in the Criminal Justice Act of the United Kingdom but they are combined into one criteria in the bill.
However, speaking after Ram, Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland clarified that it would be up to the Court of Appeal to decide this.
"It is not for the office of the DPP to just begin a fresh re-trial. The safeguard of commencing a fresh re-trial is placed in the capable hands of the Court of Appeal.
"Apart from satisfying the Court of Appeal that there is new and compelling evidence or that the acquittal was tainted, the DPP must satisfy the Court of Appeal that, in all the circumstances, it would be in the interest of justice to proceed with the re-trial of an acquitted person.
"That is a major and fundamental safeguard that has been put in place for persons or for individuals who may be affected by this legislation because it means that before any re-trial is ordered, the Court of Appeal must go through the relevant safeguards."
Ram also spoke about the inefficiency of the justice system, saying, "When someone is ordered a re-trial, they then have the additional burden of hiring lawyers to defend them, first at the application stage at the Court of Appeal and if there is a re-trial, they have to go through the entire process."
Ram said, at the current rate, the entire process could take up to 30 years of a person's life.
"If there was an easier or quicker turnover of cases in the first instance, then that's something we could possibly live with. However, having a process of ten to 15 years, then you have another ten to 15 years of having to go through that entire process again. And having to retain lawyers at exorbitant fees is something that raises my suspicion and concern."
The bill was subsequently passed after being approved by a committee of the whole. No amendments were made.