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Top to bottom review

By JULIEN NEAVES Wednesday, May 7 2014

SENATE President Timothy Hamel-Smith has called for a “top to bottom” overhaul of the country’s criminal justice system. He did so while delivering a tribute to assassinated Senior Council and State Prosecutor Dana Seetahal during yesterday’s sitting of the Senate at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port-of-Spain.

Seetahal served as an Independent Senator from 2002 to 2007. She was shot and killed in Woodbrook on Sunday morning. Hamel-Smith said for Seetahal not to have died in vain the criminal justice system must be overhauled from “top to bottom”.

“If we allow the murdering of those involved in the criminal justice system to pass without overhauling the system, we are destined to return to the law of the jungle”, Hamel-Smith said, adding, “Indeed we started in this slippery slope some time ago when witnesses were murdered or started losing their memories or simply disappeared.”

Hamel-Smith noted Seetahal was “tragically murdered by execution with military grade weapons”.

“How can we live and what can we do to make sure that Dana did not die in vain, that she continues speaking to us in our hearts,” he added. “It is absolutely vital that all of us who collectively make up the stakeholders in the criminal justice system, including us as legislators, the Judiciary, the Police Service, defence lawyers, prosecutors, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Ministry of Justice and the media, take up the challenge to overhaul the criminal justice system from top to bottom.”

He noted comments by the United States, Department of State about the country’s institutions, in their fight against crime and the drug war, that “strict adherence to rigid and often outdated methodologies by mid-level officials, as well as restrictive decision-making system that do not empower functionaries, limit the ability of these critical organisations to innovate and keep pace with highly flexible criminal organisations”.

“In memory of Dana and as a tribute to her excellence, let us therefore leave no stone unturned in ensuring that our criminal justice system is re-engineered to serve the cause of justice,” he said.

He noted that Seetahal, as a former Independent Senator, Magistrate, State prosecutor, President of the Law Association, law lecturer, author, and newspaper columnist “was a much admired woman and brilliant lawyer”.

“Dana could be relied upon to present her views fearlessly and independently and this all formed part of her public service to Trinidad and Tobago,” Hamel-Smith said.

He also recalled that she was a friend of the Parliament even beyond her days when she sat as an Independent Senator “proffering advice when we needed it”. He said she was “well-known, liked and loved” by all Parliamentary staff and all strata of the Parliament.

“She will be greatly missed and our heartfelt condolences go out to her family in this tragic moment of unimaginable grief and pain,” he said.

The Senate President expressed the hope that her family would draw consolation and strength from the Lord in their time of grief. A moment of silence was observed for her. Hamel-Smith also indicated that a letter of condolence would be sent to her family along with all tributes.

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