Local businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson are accused of various fraud charges arising out of the construction of the Piarco Airport Development Project in 2002. For over ten years the case still remains in an inquiry state, while both men have been resisting extradition to the United States to face charges related to the Piarco project.
This is just one example of individuals exploiting the local justice system that was pointed out by retired senior magistrate George Hislop.
Hislop is calling for focus to be placed on ensuring justice rather than law enforcement to deal with the country’s escalating crime situation.
Hislop is a past member of the Crime and Justice Commission and is still a practising attorney. He believes the only way a civilized society can deal with crime is in a civilized manner and this is why the current “wild west” approach to crime is proving to be so ineffective.
“Giving police more guns is not the solution,” Hislop told Wired868.
He explained that too much focus is placed on the police and army when it comes to combating crime. Instead, the aim should be towards improving the way in which the judicial system deals with criminals after they are arrested and brought before the courts.
He pointed out several steps that could be taken, specifically within the Magistrates’ Court, which could put the court to better use.
Hislop cited unnecessary activities such as the daily calling of hundreds of cases in each courtroom for adjournment as well as the abolishment of preliminary inquiries. More than half a magistrate’s day, he lamented, was spent simply adjourning cases; a practice he saw as a waste of the court’s time.
He described this process as an “administrative function” that could be handled by someone other than the magistrate. The delegation of such duties and distractions, he noted, could free the magistrate to focus on the cases that could go to trial and thereby better serve the country.
Hislop explained that an improved legal system would ensure court cases are more speedily processed rather than tied up indefinitely. He noted that criminals already knew how to use legal loopholes to drag out their cases and pointed to Galbaransingh and Ferguson’s ongoing case as one such example.
The most frequently exploited loophole occurs during preliminary inquiries when all evidence relating to a case is presented orally in court, before the magistrate, in order to determine if there is sufficient cause to go to trial. This evidence is subject to cross-examination and accused persons seize on this to cause obscene delays.
“Attorneys can tie up a case in the preliminary inquiry stage indefinitely by endlessly cross-examining the evidence,” said Hislop.
In other countries, magistrates have the power to say, “I have heard enough” and end the inquiry and order the matter to go to trial. However, local magistrates do not have that authority and, as a result, the Galbaransingh/Ferguson case remains in the preliminary inquiry stage after more than ten years.
Once an accused person has the financial means, he can use this legal loophole to delay and frustrate the justice system. And, despite discussion for years about abolishing preliminary inquiries, nothing has been done.
In the end, Hislop believes improving the way justice is administered would not only reduce crime but public confidence in the legal system; and the confidence of police officers who will know their efforts in apprehending criminals will not be wasted when their cases go to trial.