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Bailing out: How lapsing bills and political bickering have T&T living in jail

It is generally known, but only reluctantly acknowledged, that our institutions are failing us. The reasons why this failure is not the subject of broad based civic and political action have been set out in my columns many times.

Photo: The Joint Trade Union Movement protests against Section 34 during the People's Partnership Government's administration.
Photo: The Joint Trade Union Movement protests against Section 34 during the People’s Partnership Government’s administration.

Currently the Parliament has contributed to a massive national security failure. The anti-gang legislation has expired.  It did so at midnight on 23 May 2016. The Bail Amendment Act will also soon expire, this one on 15 August.

Both these pieces of legislation, passed by special majorities, cut deep into the constitutional protection against deprivation of liberty without due process of law. For this reason, both pieces of legislation contain so-called “sunset clauses”, meaning that they have expiry dates.

The purpose of these sunset clauses is to ensure that deprivation of liberty without due process is a temporary measure to be kept under review.

In a civilised society these extraordinary powers given to law enforcement to fight serious crime would be carefully used for the purposes for which they were intended. The effect of their use would be carefully documented and reviewed so that well before the expiry dates, discussion and debate could begin on whether the measures produced any meaningful results and what should be their future, if any.

The experience with these legislative measures is not in the public domain in any detail that makes an informed judgment possible about their renewal, curtailment or removal. We are aware that some persons have been charged or detained using these measures, but skeletal information makes it impossible to access the worth of these measures.

Photo: Self-titled Muslim radical and Jamaat-al-Muslimeen member Rajaee Ali was held several times by the anti-gang legislation. He has since been charged for the murder of Dana Seetahal.
Photo: Self-titled Muslim radical and Jamaat-al-Muslimeen member Rajaee Ali was held several times by the anti-gang legislation.
He has since been charged for the murder of Dana Seetahal.

What we do know is that, despite the statistics game, the country is no safer and the murder rate is higher than ever. Moreover, the impunity with which all forms of wrongdoing can be committed is now standard.

To remind readers of merely three examples of standard impunity, I refer again to the murder of Asami Nagakiya last Carnival Tuesday.

More recently, a man was stabbed in the vicinity of the intersection of Wrightson Road and French Street. The car in which he was travelling drove away and from all reports cannot be identified.

It is also routine that persons involved in road accidents likewise simply drive away, unidentified and apparently unidentifiable.

In these cases, although we hear reference to CCTV cameras, the benefits of those cameras, just like the results of evidence supposedly collected by white-coated crime scene operatives, seem to be nil or negligible.

Photo: Japanese pannist Asami Nagakiya was found dead on Ash Wednesday in 2016 at the Queen's Park Savannah. (Copyright Trini Scene)
Photo: Japanese pannist Asami Nagakiya was found dead on Ash Wednesday in 2016 at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
(Courtesy Trini Scene)

There is an obvious link between our chronic inability to solve crime and the putative value of the two pieces of legislation under review.

It must also be recorded that there appears to be significant deficiencies in the legislative provisions themselves. Decisions in the Courts have exposed some of these.

In the Parliament, after the anti-gang legislation had already expired, a Bill was introduced to extend certain provisions of both pieces of legislation. Although already out of time, the debate on this Bill was abruptly and melodramatically adjourned because a sterile dispute arose about whether the current Government had consulted the Opposition, who—note carefully—had originally brought the legislation!

As is customary, there will be now narrow partisan name-calling and blame game speeches and spin, but little credible examination of the history or of the merits of the legislation.

This will be an extreme manifestation of “fiddling while Rome burns” or of having political cuss-outs while the country bleeds.

Photo: Opposition MP Roodal Moonilal. (Courtesy Elections.tt)
Photo: Opposition MP Roodal Moonilal.
(Courtesy Elections.tt)

Presumably, some time before the expiry of the Bail Amendment Act on August 15, a shoddy compromise will be reached and flawed legislation will be returned to the statute books—probably without serious discussion about the policy and deliverables underlying this legislation and without any repair to its existing defects.

I say this because our failed legislature has for decades passed legislation under pressure of deadlines and in marathon sessions.  In the course of these sessions conscientious legislators—and only a few of those can be found—have had their senses blunted by long hours of sitting and pointless partisan speeches about who ‘tief’ what, who did what before and why some act of incompetence is excusable or political wrongdoing is justified because the other side did similarly when they were in power.

We also have a long history of bad legislation being sunk in the Courts and, sometimes producing awards of damages for those against whom the bad legislation was deployed.

I asked a few respected criminal law practitioners whether we could expect some habeas corpus applications seeking release of those still detained under the now expired anti gang legislation.

I did not get clear answers to the habeas corpus question, but I expect another period of unnecessary and expensive litigation, happening of course while the country bleeds more.

Photo: PNM Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi. (Copyright Elections.TT)
Photo: PNM Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
(Copyright Elections.TT)

Government and Opposition now scrambling to meet and “consult.” That will not staunch the bleeding.

The Parliament bailed out on us a long time ago and “we living in jail”.

About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation, a board member of The Little Carib Theatre and Folkhouse and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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13 comments

  1. And then you hear about politicians discussing salary increases. But they aren’t properly doing the jobs we put them there to do in the first place!

    • To be fair though, it seems that all the recent talk of salary increases was not something brought up by the government but by a committee that probably just got to it since it was last brought up a few years ago.

  2. Real shit 6 of 1 half a dozen of the other word

  3. I have found that politicians of all the parties lack maturity to deal with issues, and behave like puerile, recalcitrant children who, if the game isn’t going in their favour, want to take their bat and/or ball and go home.

    It has been a pernicious journey over the decades to where we are now. Nothing will change any time soon. The bahaviour is ingrained too deeply. I suspect some time in the future, we may see a revolution of some sort to force change, like a beaten pet finally turning on an abusive master. But the masses are well and truly bamboozled by rum, roti and tribal divisiveness.

  4. He is part of the “Failure Brigade”…

  5. He has a point. The banana too damn backwards with each tribe trying to score points over one another, bad talk and only compare what each other did or didn’t do including one set of propaganda and not going anywhere fast. In short, one step forward…three steps backwards.
    And don’t talk about the archaic laws and backwards court system where it takes an average of 5-10 years plus for a court trial yet to be completed with adjournment after adjournment after adjournment for one reason or another but that is for a whole other discussion.

  6. The bullies in school had to learn that behaviour somewhere.

  7. I think we are a damaged society , the police ask for our help in solving crime but you look at the news and see a state witness killed . We are scared to even open our mouths for the smallest of infractions because of this . You think BULLYING is only in schools ? Think again !

  8. I sometimes wonder if the people who benefit from crime somehow buy their way into political parties so as to ensure that this country remains in its sorid state thus ensuring that they remain on the receiving end of all contracts . When will it end ?

  9. For the sake of your blood pressure Vernal, pass this one by! 🙂