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Unsafe cells at PoS courts

By Nalinee Seelal Sunday, April 27 2014

click on pic to zoom in

Malfunctioning and warped cell doors at the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court has prompted the over 50 police officers in the Court and Process branch to seek the protection of and advice from the Police Social and Welfare Association fearing for their personal safety and that of the magistrates and civilians who traverse the courts there on a daily basis.

Officers say that since the middle of last year, prisoners who have their matters early in the day at the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ court, had resorted to banging on the cell doors to protest having to wait for the other prisoners to finish their court appearances before they could be transported back to the prisons.

The constant banging and pushing of the cell doors have resulted in them becoming weak and warped and unable to be locked properly, officers say.

Yesterday, president of the Police Social and Welfare Association Inspector Anand Ramesar described the situation at the prison cells at the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ court as both frustrating and worrisome to police officers who are stationed there and whose duty is to handle the movement of prisoners on a daily basis.

Sunday Newsday understands police officers did request an expert assessment be done on the integrity of the cell doors to determine their reliability for holding of prisoners and that personnel who subsequently checked the doors — members of the prison service — reported to the police officers that the cell doors were not inadequate for the secure holding of prisoners. The Police Association was further advised that the police officers took a pro-active approach to have the doors repaired, seeking the intervention of Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar.

The officers were hoping to have the doors repaired by the Court and Process Department but this proposal was denied, the advice being that such repairs must follow existing procedure in the Justice Ministry and it was not a job for the Court and Process Department.

Awaiting the repair of the doors, police officers have in the meantime, as a safety measure, reduced the number of prisoners coming from the prisons to the Magistrates’ court with many of them now having their matters adjourned as a result.

Some prisoners have not been brought to court at all, a situation which has caused problems at the prisons such that officers of the Prisons Service have themselves paid a visit to the Chief Magistrate and offered to repair the cells’ doors.

This offer has also been refused, Sunday Newsday has learnt.

Several prisoners who have been affected by the police’s action have said they too were contemplating protest action, saying that by their missing court appearances, they were being denied justice.

Meanwhile, the Association is calling on the Justice Minister to intervene and have this matter rectified in the shortest possible time so as not to have police officers working in an unsafe environment and which can easily be dealt with by an administrative intervention.

“Many police officers suffer chastisement from magistrates when prisoners are not brought to court, this situation is providing an uncomfortable and hostile environment which the Association maintains must cease,” said Ramesar.

Fifty police officers are usually on duty at the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ court on a daily basis.

Hardened criminals with multiple murder charges are brought to court there and on Friday, Court and Process officers told Sunday Newsday that they will be having further consultation with the Police Social and Welfare Association as to the next step to having this matter dealt with urgently.

Officers said they are hoping for the early intervention of the Minister of Justice Emmanuel George.

Efforts by Sunday Newsday to reach Minister George were unsuccessful.

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