How Evidence (Amendment) Bill can transform TTPS by overhauling suspect interview process

Change is needed. Whether they are the right changes, fast changes or far enough changes, will always be a matter for debate. 

However, what is certain is that the criminal justice system needs reform. And while it may be convenient to ascribe blame on one component of this integral system, those who do so either lack basic working knowledge of the system or are simply mischievously propelling an agenda—as no one component is blameless in all of this.

Photo: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (centre) leads a police exercise.
(via TTPS)

The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) is the primary law enforcement agency and by virtue of its roles and functions in the society, is the ‘poster boy’ of the criminal justice system. 

Consequently, many of the problems that have led to a poor public perception of the criminal justice system can be directly attributed to the TTPS. Whether or not that is fair, is another debate.

In this regard, regulating police conduct—particularly as it relates to police conduct during investigations, which on occasion can lead to prosecutions and convictions—is a fundamental pillar in the development of a robust criminal justice system, and this should concern not only the lawyers and the police, but every citizen of this country. 

The Evidence (Amendment) Bill 2020, which is currently being debated in the Lower House of Parliament, is one of the most pivotal bills to be debated in recent times. 

Those familiar with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 (PACE), the legislative framework for the powers of police officers in England and Wales, would appreciate the intention and subsequent success of PACE in standardising and professionalizing police work. 

Photo: Police officers patrol the Brian Lara Promenade.
(via TTPS)

The Evidence (Amendment) Bill 2020 is remarkably similar to the PACE both in structure and in substance. By way of brief history for context, PACE came about as a result of social turbulence precipitated by ‘a loss of confidence’ in the police—as reported by Lord Scarman, a highly-regarded jurist. 

One of the recommendations of the Scarman Report was to improve the trust between the population and the police. As time went by, further reports such as the ‘McPherson’s report’ and the ‘After the Riots report’ sought to build on the developments achieved from the PACE, with further recommendations to improve the relationship between the police and the population.

One can juxtapose the circumstances which led to Lord Scarman’s report or, more recently, the After the Riots report with the teetering that has been taking place in Trinidad and Tobago within the past 15-20 years. One could easily find sociological similarities (such as the nationwide protests of June/July 2020) which reinforce the immediate need for legislative intervention like this.  

Interestingly enough and at the risk of being a bit contradictory, the Evidence (Amendment) Bill does not introduce any fundamental changes to police powers. But rather it seeks to codify  many police powers that already exists at common law in one document, while clearly defining the rights of the individual against the powers of the police.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Police Service officers.
(Courtesy TTPS)

The result therefore will be, rather than police powers existing in an ill-defined and somewhat piecemeal-like format, there will be a clear, cogent and concise legislative framework, which can now be accessed by any member of the public for his or her understanding. 

The result should be a more educated and empowered society with the ability to identify and assist in the regulation of police conduct. This inevitably will lead to an improvement in the quality of service provided by the TTPS and inspire public confidence in our lawmen—and by extension, the criminal justice system.

In furtherance of the objective, this bill inherently empowers the judiciary to make a determination sooner as there are now clear stipulations that must be followed, as stated in this bill. 

By way of example, the issue of interviewing and recording the statements of suspects has always been a contentious issue, as often it is the suspect’s words against that of the interviewing and/or investigating officer’s. 

This bill seeks to introduce a provision where the interview of any person suspected of or charged with the commission of an offence must be recorded by video recording; and, if it is not practicable to record the interview by video recording, audio recording must be used.

Photo: A controversial police interrogation from the docu-series When They See Us.

It is  well-known that a significant portion of the allegations of police misconduct surround the conduct of officers in and around the interview and recording of statements of suspects. 

Hundreds of police man hours and judicial time are spent in courts as police officers are put to task over their conduct at this stage. 

The use of an audio visual recording system will drastically reduce—if not eliminate altogether—allegations of police misconduct during interviews and witness statement for obvious reasons. 

Further, hundreds of thousands if not millions of taxpayers’ dollars was spent outfitting rooms and buildings within the TTPS with audio-visual recording systems as far back as the early 2000s. Today, those rooms are still not utilised or, at best, are under-utilised because officers are unwilling to risk using it in the absence of ‘proper guidance’ in ‘black and white’. This bill provides that ‘black and white’.

There is no perfect legislation, but this bill is necessary and will be largely successful and instrumental in bringing the TTPS into 21st century modern policing. 

Photo: A suspect is surrounded by lawmen during a classic interrogation scene.

At a time when public confidence in the TTPS is low and the mechanisms for police accountability seem convoluted and arbitrary, this legislation is a welcomed step in the right direction. 

Police officers will be protected from unsubstantiated allegations, the rights of the individual will be protected, and the criminal justice system will be improved.

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About Thane J Pierre

Thane J Pierre is an attorney at law with extensive experience in forensics and law enforcement.

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  1. Mr. Pierre, whilst i agree with most of what you wrote in this article, i am of the opinion that some more in-depth investigations into the actual infrastructure at police stations across the country with regards to interview rooms and recording devices.
    None of the older stations will have adequate areas for interviews or interrogation, or official recordings devices. Newer stations may have, but were they ever functional? If they were, for how long. Are any maintenance procedures and guidelines included in this bill for these sensitive equipment?
    What about the authenticity of recordings?
    Provision for training all personnel in the TTPS with respect to these new/adjusted procedures have not been dealt with, both the financial and the practical aspects. The commissioner have said on numerous occasions that the TTPS is being starved for adequate funding, also the Government keeps complaining of deficit in revenue. How are these changes going to instituted?

  2. This is happening for reasons and I see these reasonings to be namely:

    1. The opportunity for us to be more structured.
    2. The opportunity for change.
    3. The opportunity for accountability to be at the forefront of what we do.
    4. Warrants and the issuing of warrants must be transparent.
    5. Too many false reasonings for issuing Warrants.
    6. Too much breaking down of poor people’s door with false information on warrants.

    Additionally, the police service culture in this country needs to drastically change and morph into an organization that respects all mankind. Respect for all means the poor, needy, vagrant, middle class, and rich.

  3. To the author, points noted. Well written, change has to happen.

    Here are some other considerations.

    1. Does the TTPS want reform? These changes would enforce accountability.

    2. Better training needs to be provided to the TTPS. Without proper training could our officers truly be held accountable.

    3. Training requires funding and a budget. In which our government has made it clear, they don’t have the funds or resources.

    4. State assets (audio/visual), rotting away becoming obsolete over time. This needs to be mandated, that these devices must be used including body cameras.

    Continue to bring awareness to these issues. Otherwise like a cancer it will continue to grow until it’s untreatable.

  4. Our leaders in both big parties spend most of their time fighting each other rather than running this country. The Pnm anf Unc must come together and pass laws to flay the foundation that a new TT better than before can arise from. The problem is they living too good, they safe behind gated communities and armed police while everybody else doesn’t enjoy that but gets to pay for it, and when we ask for something as simple as pepper spray for our women to have a fighting chance. it’s like having to pull teeth from a Hippo. Our country isn’t where it is because of some accident, it is so by design, the politicians were quick to raise their own salary, where is the quickness for the pepper spray, no bail, hangings etc. GET IT DONE ASAP.

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