Timeline of a curious clause
Sunday, September 23 2012
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DEFIANT: Former Justice Minister Herbert Volney makes a point during an interview at his home on Friday, the morning after he was fired by Prime Minis...
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s decision to fire Justice Minister Herbert Volney last week, for misleading the Cabinet on Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Bill is still resonating in the minds of the public.
Volney again threw the door open for the debate to rage on when he claimed at least two other Cabinet colleagues, Prakash Ramadhar and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, had enough time to comment on any issues they may have had with the clause after he presented it to Cabinet in August. Today, Sunday Newsday presents a timelime of the events surrounding the laying of the controversial clause, now since repealed.
TIMELINE TO SECTION 34
Aug 22, 2011: State of emergency declared.
Nov 18, 2011: The Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Bill is passed in the House of Representatives. The law originally featured a Section 34 which held that where a person is not tried seven years after “proceedings were instituted” (charges) that person would be discharged. The rationale is to reduce the burden on courts.
The Prime Minister, acting on advice of Minister of Legal Affairs Prakash Ramadhar, tables an amendment raising seven years to ten. Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert objects, saying, “Yes, I do not know why you want to amend it. Ten years is a long time between charge and trial, you know—somebody waiting for ten years.” At this stage, the section started time from the date of charges, not from the date of the crime. Justice Minister Herbert Volney during the debate said, “While this measure can work without rules because it establishes a framework, I can assure Members opposite that nothing is going to be proclaimed before all the necessary measures required to make it succeed happens. As we speak we know that the construction of judicial centres and courthouses will take 30 months.
The Member for Diego Martin North/East has said two years, two to three years, you are fairly accurate, it shows that you are in the engineering business you know where you properly belong. So that as the construction kicks in and takes place, all these new matters coming into the system will go to those facilities, those temporary facilities, pending final construction of the judicial centres in order, Mr Speaker, that those matters that come into the system from hence forth remain fresh, remain new.
Nov 24, 2011: The Prime Minister announces, amid an ongoing state of emergency which ran from August 22 and ended in December, that she has been subject to an assassination plot. Twelve persons are reported detained, under extraordinary detention powers.
Nov 29, 2011: The Senate passes the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act. In piloting the bill early in the sitting, Minister of Justice Herbert Volney says Section 34 would discharge a person ten years after “commission of offences” . However, at the start of the sitting, Section 34 was as it had been passed in the House of Representatives. Only later, at committee stage, as the midnight curfew approached, did Volney table a new Section 34, dating time from the date of the offence. Also the new version compels a judge to insert a “not guilty” verdict above and beyond a simple discharge. No senator speaks on or objects to this amendment at the committee stage.
Dec 5, 2011: State of emergency ends.
Dec 9, 2011: The amendments, including the new Section 34, are approved in the House of Representatives. Volney does not address the question of the change to the date of the crime as opposed to the “institution of proceedings” or the insertion of the provision compelling a judge to render a “not guilty” verdict in the record.
PNM Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert, on the new Section 34, remarks, “The seven year period or ten year period was the effluxion of time between the sufficiency hearing and the trial. Look at what is going on in this amendment. It is completely different! Fundamentally changing the impact—I see the Member of St Augustine nodding. So that means if somebody committed a crime 11 years ago, he has escaped. It is incumbent on the Government and the Minister in this House to explain to us the rational behind these amendments. This amendment appears to be entirely inappropriate. This will automatically disqualify all crimes committed more than 10 years ago—automatically throw them out of the whole purview of indictable proceedings. That makes no sense to me.” Volney replies, “The system is so heavily overburdened that we have to cut off certain cases, other cases that we cannot continue to carry. And, that is exactly why it is a paradigm shift that we take that position. And that is why this measure deals with it. It literally means holding the bull by the horns and dealing with the problem.” He notes a schedule exempts certain offences from the Section such as: murder, rape, shooting, kidnapping and other “blood crimes”.
Ramadhar later says he raised concerns with unnamed Government officials and was assured that the law would not come into effect until the passage of years. He did not foresee, he said, the impact on specific cases.
Dec 16, 2011: President assents the Act. It now awaits proclamation.
Dec 19, 2011: Attorney General Anand Ramlogan announces his decision to not challenge a High Court ruling which quashed his extradition order for Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson. He defends this decision saying it will increase the likelihood of both men getting a local trial.
July 20, 2012: Attorney General Anand Ramlogan leaves the country on an overseas trip, according to Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar.
July 24, 2012: Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Cabinet ministers Volney, who is also the Acting Legal Affairs Minister, Minister of Public Administration Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, Acting Attorney General Ganga Singh, Minister of National Security Jack Warner meet alongside Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard at the Hall of Justice. Warner later says the Cabinet ministers told the CJ the Act would be proclaimed “in toto” or in its entirety. No mention is made of partial proclamation of Section 34. Gaspard says the section is mentioned in passing in terms of its “import” but no decision about early proclamation appears to have been made. Gaspard later says the section would apply to 47 cases.
Aug 4, 2012: Ramlogan returns, by the Prime Ministers’s account.
Aug 5, 2012: The Office of the Prime Minister announces the Prime Minister will be in Jamaica from August 5 to 8. “Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar is expected to return on Wednesday August 8,” the official press release reads. In the interim, the Acting Prime Minister is Jack Warner.
Aug 8, 2012: According to a notice in the Gazette, the President revokes Warner’s appointment as Acting Prime Minister effective the morning of August 8.
Aug 9, 2012: Volney brings a note to Cabinet for the partial proclamation of the Act, with Section 34 and some other preliminary definitions to take effect on August 31 and the rest of the Act on January 2, 2013. The note is approved. The Prime Minister later says at this meeting she asked Volney whether or not the Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Roger Gaspard SC had been consulted. According to the Prime Minister, Volney pointed to terms of the Cabinet note which indicated that they had been.
Aug 16, 2012: The Cabinet approval is confirmed, as is the standard practice the week after a decision is taken.
Aug 28, 2012: President George Maxwell Richards signs the proclamation putting Section 34 into effect on August 31, the date of the 50th anniversary of Independence, and the rest of the law January 2, 2013.
Sept 10, 2012: Businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson file petitions to the High Court under Section 34, asking that they be freed of corruption charges and be declared not guilty on the grounds their cases have been ongoing for ten years.
Sept 11, 2012: Communications Ministry issues a brief statement announcing the emergency sitting of the House of Representatives to debate the repeal of Section 34.
Hours later, DPP issues a statement that he had not been consulted on the early proclamation of Section 34, and discloses he informed the Attorney General of the impact the provision would have on the prosecution of the Piarco accused.
Sept 12, 2012: Parliament debates the amendment to repeal Section 34. The Attorney General admits to parliamentary oversight, while Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley accuses Government of conspiracy by the early proclamation of Section 34. The amendment is however passed unanimously.
Sept 13, 2012: The Senate passes the amendment with four Independent Senators voting against the repeal of the law.
Sept 17, 2012: Chief Justice Ivor Archie, in the opening of the Law Term, says he was never told by the Cabinet ministers that a section of the Act would be proclaimed in advance.
Sept 18, 2012: Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar apologises for the awful fiasco that led to the proclamation of Section 34, saying he had queried the provision during debate last year but was given certain assurances.
Rowley leads a march to President’s House to present a petition to the President to demand an explanation from the Prime Minister on the early proclamation of Section 34.
Sept 19, 2012: The Prime Minister meets with the Chief Justice Ivor Archie, Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard who both confirm never being consulted on the early proclamation.
Sept 20, 2012: The Prime Minister announces the dismissal of Volney.