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CCJ judge: Criminal cases in T&T taking too long


■ Sherlan Ramsubhag

CRIMINAL cases are taking too long before they can be tried in Trinidad and Tobago, says Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Judge Winston Anderson.

He described the length of time it took the courts to deal with criminal cases as 'intolerable'.

Anderson was speaking at the 'Simulating Solutions: Mobilising Expertise to Combat Crime and Criminality in Trinidad and Tobago' symposium, at the Daaga Auditorium, The University of the West Indies (The UWI), St Augustine, yesterday, 'There should be no more than the expiry of one year between when a person is accused, arrested and charged and they face criminal justice,' he said.

Chief Public Defender in T&T Hasine Shaikh, in her contribution, also spoke about a backlog at the courts.

She recalled that last year's murder toll stood at 576, with a 15% detection rate, which was reported at a Joint Select Committee meeting by Commissioner of Police Erla Christopher last month.

Adding that the low crime detection rate contributed to the issue of crime, Shaikh said: 'When you look at a backlog before the court of ten to 15 years before a murder actually comes to court, that speaks to another story.'

She said the issue with these lengthy periods was that people who commit such crimes did not see immediate repercussions from the legal system.

She suggested that one of the changes to the legal framework to mitigate that problem would be to categorise murders.

Shaikh explained: 'The current position is that the death penalty and all murders are in one category.'

She said there were different elements to committing the crime of murder.

'You can commit murder in the course of a felony, which is known commonly as felony murder, whereby if you go and you rob somebody and during that, the weapon is discharged and someone is killed. That is not the same as going and executing someone, so that is one consideration,' she said.

She said the all-in-one murder category created a challenge for people who wished to take accountability for their actions as it was impossible to plead to a death penalty.

She said: 'Currently that (making a plea) can be done, but persons have to go through a process to get to there, meaning that you have to get the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions before we can get to the point of going before the court and pleading specifically to a felony murder.'

She noted that this process could take years, which prolongs cases to ten to 15 years.

She argued that the categorisation of murder would allow for the process to be sped up and therefore mitigate backlog, encourage people to be accountable by making pleas, and deter potential criminals because they would know they could face the death penalty for committing murders.

Bail Act

Cpl Zaheer Ali, of the Special Investigations Unit of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, in his contribution, said there was a need for the Bail Act to be reformed.

He said: 'The reform should also be looking to use the Bail Act as a strong deterrent, so persons who are bent on committing very serious crimes and murder, when they are aware that there is a condition that there is a prohibition of bail for gang-related activities, they will think differently.'

ANTI-CRIME TALKS: TTUTA president Martin Lum Kin, left, delivers a presentation during yesterday's 'A Crime Symposium', hosted by The UWI, at Daaga Hall, St Augustine. Also present on the panel were Justice Winston Anderson, right, and attorney Zaheer Ali of the Police Special Investigations Unit. -Photo: ROBERT TAYLOR

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