A law passed during the state of emergency
By ANDRE BAGOO Sunday, September 16 2012
BY THE end of last week the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act became the most famous piece of legislation in this country. Its now repealed Section 34, allowed a Judge to discharge a case on the basis of a ten-year statutory limit.
The section was not a part of the original legislation tabled in the House of Representatives on November 18, 2011 and in the Senate on November 29, 2011.
The original section imposed a ten-year limit to the length of proceedings. While much was made last week of the fact that the ten years was, in fact, seven years at first, the fact is that in both instances time ran not from the date on which the alleged offence was committed but rather from the date when the persons first appeared before a court. This is the crucial difference.
The change to make time run from the alleged date of the offence, as opposed to the “institution of proceedings”, came from an amendment tabled by Minister of Justice Herbert Volney in the Senate on November 29, 2011. In piloting the bill in the Senate Volney had alluded to Section 34 and did mention in passing that that the time would run from the date of the “commission of the crime”. However, the original bill before all senators was, at the time of Volney’s oral remarks, the one which had a Section 34 running from the date of the “institution of the proceedings”. So though he said that, senators would have been reading a completely different thing in front of them. Volney, in piloting, seemed to anticipate events that would unfold later in the sitting.
It was Volney’s later amendment in the sitting, as the clock approached midnight, that made the change. When the amendment was circulated and tabled at committee stage, not a single senator: Government, Opposition or Independent, remarked. In a Parliament where there are frequent marathon sittings and everyone likes to hear their own voice, this is incredible! The only person to apologise to the people of Trinidad and Tobago over this clear failure was Independent Senator Helen Drayton.
“I would like to take the opportunity to say to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago that I am sorry,” she said last week as a law to repeal Section 34 was being passed. “I feel a deep sense of responsibility for not re-scrutinising thoroughly the amendments which were brought to the Senate during the debate, mainly section 34, and not paying closer attention to the Schedule.” She added, “It is often said that no law can be perfect. That may or may not be so, but the reality is, it takes a word, a phrase or a small omission to derail a piece of legislation.”
It may well be true that both the Government and the Opposition stood to benefit from the Section. But when the Senate amendments came back to the House of Representatives for approval on December 9, 2011, it was only Colm Imbert, the Diego Martin North/East MP, who protested that Section 34 was now “fundamentally different”.
We do not even need to talk about whether there was a conspiracy. This chain of events was, at best, reckless and incompetent. It has jeopardised several important legal proceedings. The Government’s very own hasty decision to convene Parliament last week to try to reverse the impact of the Cabinet’s own hasty proclamation of the section on August 31, shows the gravity of the situation and, therefore, the seriousness of the blunder. On this basis alone, all the Cabinet Ministers involved should go. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org