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AG: New law for court case backlog

By Miranda La Rose Wednesday, December 18 2013

A first draft of a new Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Bill to abolish preliminary inquiries and cross examinations is under review as Government revives efforts to clear the courts of a backlog of cases.

The plan still includes the appointment of more judges and magistrates as well as accommodation for more courts.

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan yesterday disclosed he had appointed senior counsel Dana Seetahal in September to review the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act 2011 with a view to simplify and modify its structure.

“She has in fact produced a first draft,” Ramlogan told Newsday.

The draft has been for comment to stakeholders in the process — the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the Criminal Bar, the Law Association and the Judiciary.

“We have received comments from the Criminal Bar and the Office of the DPP. We have not received comments from the Judiciary, but I expect those would be forthcoming in the near future as they are a most important stakeholder,” he said.

Government’s aim is to present a new bill along the lines of the Antiguan model, he said, “which is simpler and more effective to deal with the abolition of preliminary inquiries and cross examinations which is what causes the protracted hearings.”

The Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act 2011was due to be proclaimed in stages. However, its controversial Section 34 was repealed in October, last year, shortly after early proclamation when it emerged that corruption charges against businessmen and UNC financiers Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson could have been dropped under this provision.

The section would have allowed persons charged under the Act to apply for the charges to be dropped if they allegedly committed offences more than ten years prior to charges. Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson, along with 24 other accused who were eligible under the legislation, have since filed constitutional motions challenging the repeal.

The furor over Section 34 also saw then Justice Minister Herbert Volney being fired for misleading the Judiciary and Government on its early proclamation on August 31, last year.

According to Ramlogan there will be no need for a such a provision in the new Act. “Section 34 is dead.

That is history. It was never on the Government’s radar. It ought not to have been included in that law, and it is not something that will feature in the new law.”

The abolition of preliminary inquiries, he said, “will put an end to protracted delays and shift the focus to the High Court and trial in the High Court. That is why we need to immediately have more judges and courtrooms to eliminate waiting time.”

Ramlogan said the Inter-Ministerial Justice Sector Committee, which meets with Chief Justice Ivor Archie, met two weeks ago where several matters were discussed including abolishing preliminary inquiries, appointing more judges and magistrates, and the need for more courts.

“We are looking to see where we can find suitable accommodation to house additional courts so that we could actually tackle the backlog,” he said.

Regardless of what law is put in place, Ramlogan said there is a need for physical infrastructure and judges and magistrates in the administration of justice.

While that will be taking place, Ramlogan said, “we have to explore enterprising and innovative solutions to see, for example, if the system of night courts is not something that is feasible, whether or not we can move to virtual courtroom trials, which may not require a physical space for an actual physical court, so that rent and staff, and the space are cut down to a bare minimum.”

Such a move would require the training of staff in Information Communication Technology to manage video conferencing and Skype technology.

Noting the many possibilities, he said one of the major challenges is the lack of space in the capital and space has to be found outside of Port-of-Spain.

“That is something we have passed to the Property Real Estate Division of the Ministry of Housing,” he said, “to identify suitable accommodation for us to create additional courtrooms so that would be an immediate measure to tackle the backlog.”

He is hoping that the acquisition of space and the appointment of judges and magistrates can be accomplished during the first half of next year.

With respect to issue of the delays in judgments, which the Chief Justice last week accepted the blame for, Ramlogan said, “it is important that we not take a snapshot of the administration of justice and be too harsh in our judgment and criticism.”

He said Archie has been outstanding in tackling the backlog. “Unfortunately, there are speed bumps that do not reflect well on the Judiciary,” he said adding “There are some outstanding judges who go beyond the call of duty and who work extremely hard, but there are some others who do not pull their weight.”

The question of judicial indiscipline, he said is one that must be addressed by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission in a more forthright manner.

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