AG: Point at yourself, Rowley
By Jada Loutoo and Azard Ali Wednesday, September 12 2012
ATTORNEY GENERAL Anand Ramlogan yesterday scoffed at “conspiracy theories” claims by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley that the early proclamation of the controversial clause 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act 2011 was intended to benefit certain individuals from prosecution.
In an interview with Newsday yesterday, Ramlogan said Rowley’s claims were “preposterous and absurd.” The contentious clause 34 which saw accused persons petitioning the courts for freedom from prosecution for decades-old cases, is expected to be repealed by Government at a special sitting of the House of Representatives today.
The new law abolishes the preliminary inquiry procedure normally adopted to screen serious criminal cases and calls for a Master of the High Court to review evidence to determine if the matter should go to a full trial.
According to Ramlogan, the new law was supported by the Opposition in both the Lower House and the Senate as well as the Independent bench in the Upper House.
“It would have required a fanciful collaboration between all persons in both Houses of Parliament to achieve what the Opposition is alleging.
“For Mr Rowley to point fingers he must first take a close look at the four pointed back at him as he wholeheartedly supported the legislation,” Ramlogan said.
In justifying the original intent of Section 34, the Attorney General said the provision was envisioned to “dynamite the log jam and ease the burdensome backlog that has been stifling and suffocating the administration of criminal justice without compromising the public interest.” He pointed to the heavy caseload in the magistrates’ courts.
“The question is where does one draw the line? There are hundreds of cases still in the system, dating back decades,” he said.
In explaining the reason for Government’s decision to repeal the section, Ramlogan said this was done in light of the divergence of legal opinions.
“We have decided to repeal the section to eliminate the risk and possibility of a narrow interpretation. The contentious section that attracted much comment and different interpretations will be removed and any appearance of a loophole will be closed to the extent that some said it was capable of being abused and misused,” he said.
Sources close to the Government noted the decision to repeal section 34 also came after Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard expressed his concern over the legislation. The suggestion that the section be repealed was Gaspard’s.
Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal said yesterday that even if Government repeals Section 34, and does so retroactively before the dates Galbaransingh and Ferguson filed their cases in the High Court seeking not guilty verdicts in the Piarco Airport corruption cases, there could be possible cause of action seeking constitutional redress.
“Persons who have filed cases, not only Galbaransingh and Ferguson, can say that they were the benefits of an existing law,” Seetahal said.
Ramlogan and Seetahal gave their views on the latest developments regarding Section 34 at the opening of the new drug court in San Fernando, yesterday.
Also attending were Chief Justice Ivor Archie, National Security Jack Warner, Director of Public Prosecution Roger Gaspard, Appeal Court judge Peter Jamadar. Archie and Gaspard steered clear from commenting to the media on the issue of Galbaransingh and Ferguson’s petitioning of the High Court to invoke Section 34, on the ground that ten years have passed since the charges of corruption were laid without a trial.
Ramlogan said that even if Section 34 was invoked by persons seeking to have their cases thrown out on the ground of delay, the State could resist such an application. “But rather than leave it to chance, the better thing to do is repeal it in its’ entirety, and revert to the common-law. Under common-law, as established in Privy Council judgments, persons can petition the court to have their cases thrown out on the ground of delay, providing the delay was not due to their own attempts to frustrate the process of justice,” Ramlogan said.
Ramlogan dismissed comments in the public domain that Section 34 facilitated Galbaransingh and Ferguson’s attempt to gain freedom. He said, “In any law, there is bound to be room for different interpretation, hence the reason we have decided to remove the section completely. Other lawyers are fine with the section.... it is okay. But why leave it to doubt....we will remove it and that is the end of the matter.”
Seetahal agreed with removal of the clause, but added that she hoped Government includes a retroactive clause in the Act to treat with those who filed applications when the section was proclaimed.
She said, however, persons who have since filed cases in the High Court invoking Section 34, including Galbaransingh and Ferguson, can claim that the refusal of the court to stop their trial by recording not guilty verdicts, amounted to a violation of their right to benefit from what was at the time an existing law. Seetahal said, “They could claim that we made an application under an existing law (Section 34), and we were entitled to benefits at the time. At the time the legislation was enforced, we filed our application and therefore we are entitled to the benefits of it.”