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Heartfelt Harris and hyping Harry: Daly looks at IRO controversy

When I saw the headline “Age has nothing to do with maturity” in last Tuesday’s Trinidad Express newspaper, I wrongly assumed I would be led into an explanation why a majority of Independent Senators would so easily allow themselves to be drawn into an apparent formation of a caucus.

Photo: The IRO has defended child marriages in Trinidad and Tobago.
Photo: The IRO has defended child marriages in Trinidad and Tobago.

I was looking for an explanation because the cynical side of me senses a set up in such a formation. The report was not about Senatorial politics, but it did shed further light on the disadvantages of operating as a caucus.

The headline was a summary of the stance the Inter Religious Organisation (IRO) was purportedly taking in unqualified defence of the dated statutory permissions for certain females to marry at 12 and 14 years old.

The report quoted Brother Harrypersad Maharaj, the leader of the IRO: “Last week, the IRO took the unanimous decision not to support the legalisation of abortion, setting prisoners free on the basis of mercy, or any amendment of the Marriage Act with regard to the permissible age of marriage.”

These IRO officials must be exceptionally quick thinkers to consider not one but three weighty topics at a monthly meeting at which presumably they conduct the more routine business of their organisation.

Another amazing feature of the IRO’s discussion was the reported unanimity of the decisions. It is hard to believe that no one in the meeting would have any reservation on three such weighty topics beyond the one reported regarding possibly allowing abortion following rape.

Photo: IRO head Harrypersad Maharaj.
Photo: IRO head Harrypersad Maharaj.

However, the report gives a clue as to why such an incredible “unanimity” might be engineered. The decisions, as Maharaj was quoted in the media, were taken during the IRO’s monthly meeting, at which 17 members were present.

It was then revealed: “Maharaj said members who were not present contacted the IRO afterwards expressing support for the decisions.”

That process suggests a caucus position rather than a free flow of ideas according to individual conscience, a process that would certainly not be in the public interest if the Independent Senators persist along such a line.

The statement of course gave the public the impression that representatives who were not present nevertheless subscribed to the decision, but a question struck me immediately regarding the reported unanimity.

Did the Roman Catholic Church, a member of the IRO, really agree without qualification that prisoners should not be set free on the basis of mercy?

Photo: Archbishop Joseph Harris. (Courtesy Stabroek News)
Photo: Archbishop Joseph Harris.
(Courtesy Stabroek News)

This seemed strange given that Archbishop Harris, the head of the Roman Catholic church, initiated the heartfelt proposal that the State should set free prisoners on remand whose time on remand had exceeded the maximum sentence for the offence for which they were awaiting trial.

Not surprisingly, Archbishop Harris himself promptly repudiated the inference that the Roman Catholic Church was part of the allegedly unanimous decision. He said that they were not part of the meeting, were not called afterward and did not support child marriage.

Other churches also subsequently repudiated the alleged unanimity. Harrypersad now looks like a hyping Harry.

I do not understand the IRO’s reported reasoning in support of child marriages.

How do problems of child abuse, high murder rates, or the breakdown of marriages have any bearing on the re-consideration of the issue in light of the re-definition of the roles of men and women, which has freed many women from being assigned a role sub-ordinate to men?

Photo: Child marriages in Yemen.
Photo: Child marriages in Yemen.

With regard to the remand problem, I was also shocked by the indifference reflected in the dismissal of the years spent in jail awaiting trial in a system which presumes innocence, as “an administrative problem.” The administration of criminal justice has been failing to deliver for decades.

It is no answer to the Archbishop’s proposal to speak emotionally of the victims of crimes when the alleged perpetrator has already served the equivalent or more of a maximum sentence.  Those prisoners on remand have paid the full price they were due to pay if they were found guilty.

It is to be emphasised that they were held without trial.  I disagree that they should be kept inside longer to preserve an opportunity for the alleged victims to receive monetary compensation.

It is also harsh not to revisit reform of the law for possession of small quantities of ganja (marijuana). This type of ganja possession has probably penalised the lower economic classes disproportionately to others guilty of the same thing.

Those on remand for years profiled for only a spliff or two should also be released. If bail is on offer how will they pay it?

Photo: Late Reggae star Bob Marley takes a spliff. (Copyright UK Guardian)
Photo: Late Reggae star Bob Marley takes a spliff.
(Copyright UK Guardian)

I venture respectfully to suggest that mercy is an inter-religious concept.  It has been indicated to me that the Bhagavad Gita acknowledges that villains who receive the mercy of the devotees of Lord Krishna “by that potency may have a change of heart.”

In the two circumstances of endless remand for which mercy is proposed what has more value: mercy or victims’ compensation?

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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7 comments

  1. Seems like they should be extinct…

  2. Mr Daly continues to speak on Independent caucus but glaringly ignores the Justin Junkere issue. Is it right for two independent senators to meet with the Government behind closed doors and then vote in favour of the government? Isn’t that contrary to the spirit of Parliamentary democracy? What could the Govt say in private that convinced you, that they couldn’t say in chambers?

    How did Justin Junkere become an ‘independent senator’? Who proposed him to so be? One of the biggest democratic hijackings took place under our noses, and those who should speak are silent…smh.

    As for the ‘remand issue’, indeed, persons should not be on remand for an unreasonable length of time – fully agreed. However, who caused this utter failure, and whose job it is to fix it? What has the Chief Justice done to treat with this issue? Talk, talk and more talk, year to year at the opening of the law term.

    The judiciary has a significant amount of blame to receive from this, justice is not well administrated at all. Yet, these people who behave like kno-it-alls refuse to be criticized.
    In the Magistrate court matters begin at ten due to waiting for prisoners of the Magistrates. Matters are then postponed for the most minor of issues, then court is finished at 12 noon, even theoretically it is ‘opened’ beyond that. why aren’t matters heard until four PM?

    The Police has blame to receive as well, because officers fail to attend court without proper reason. Senior officers do not manage their juniors well at all.

    Parliament is yet another institution that must received blame for too many reasons to mention. The Executive has not built sufficient courtrooms, invested properly in video hearings etc.

    When last has anyone seen a tender notice for prisoner transport? What are the terms of Amalgamated contracts? Why hasn’t another firm been used to transport prisoners? Do people receive kickbacks from this arrangement? If there is more video hearings, wouldn’t that cut down on the need for prisoner transport? Is that why it is not furthered?

  3. Plenty cause for more scrutiny of this “religious” body.

  4. An we start a fanpage for Martin? Some days after reading his column I want to flash him in gratitude.