I suppose one can admire the zeal with which the Attorney General, Mr Faris Al Rawi, pursues his causes in the Parliament. Likewise, members of the Opposition have made a number of valid points concerning legislation brought before the Parliament recently.
It would of course be more palatable if both sides could lower the hostility level and temper the blame game.
The abolition of preliminary enquiries is long overdue but I am not so sure about the method chosen. The new legislation may place too much on the Director of Public Prosecutions—both in terms of concentration of power and work load.
The volume of material that the police must provide to the DPP is formidable and there is no guarantee that any fewer applications for judicial review will be directed at the DPP than are now directed at Magisterial proceedings.
Now the Government is moving towards criminal trials by a Judge alone if an accused agrees and the Opposition is pointing to the performance of the Judiciary as the proverbial elephant in the room.
Lawyers are not likely to advise their clients to take that option. If so, the legislation will be a mirage in the current desert of crime fighting.
Underlying all of this is an attempt to appease frustration at the level of crime, particularly murder committed with near certain impunity and at the slow pace of criminal trials. Crime is an issue that could make a Government lose an election. If passed, there will be three years before the next election to assess the value of the much touted legislation.
I fear for all of us that one root cause of the problem, which is poor policing, is not being tackled. A related root cause is some of the unsavoury interlocking connections which I described last Sunday.
Taking shortcuts in the administration of justice process, of which curtailment of bail was an offensive example, is not an answer to these problems. If these root causes remain, the single judge who has to try a serious criminal case, may feel as vulnerable as the rest of us including witnesses who have to appear in Court.
If there is no law and order, witnesses are expendable regardless of whether they appear before a jury or a single judge. What is needed is a long hard look at our current lawless situation.
Both Constitutional and legislative provisions assume a certain level of good order and good governance, including competent policing, which we have not had for two decades.
I wrote last Sunday about the conflicts of interest that pervert governance and almost every form of public procurement and State based provision of services, social safety nets and infrastructure.
I asserted: “That is why we cannot make any progress in the fight against violent crime, particularly murder. The interlocking connections between institutions that are supposed to work for the public good and persons or organisations that pervert the course of the public good are too well known to explain again at any length.”
The point must be made that both major political parties have attempted to govern with these connections in their faces and sadly have pandered to them. In these circumstances, the blame game in crime would be laughable if it is we were not literally losing many, many lives while it is being played.
A relevant example of the lack of good governance turned up last week in the form of disclosures about credit card fraud in Caribbean Airlines, in the order of TT$3.25M annually, which until now seems to have elicited little more than a shrug from the airline’s management.
It must be acknowledged that these parliamentary committees before whom public officials have to appear are a measure that works, at least to the extent of exposing grave deficiencies in governance that would otherwise be hidden.
What is required, by analogy to matters arising from minutes of a previous meeting, is scheduled follow-up sessions specifically for testimony regarding what was done about a problem revealed before the Committee or a least a written report if there are too many meetings for Parliamentarians to handle.
The exchanges, in Parliament and outside, have become more vicious than when I posed this question in May 2013: “Can our politicians stop devoting their energies to personal destruction of each other?”
I stated then “They lose and the country loses more when these scandals are let loose and linger and there is no finite end or closure. We need to restore the credibility of our constitutional institutions as a matter of urgency.”
Since then many more citizens have been murdered with impunity. It is legitimate to ask whether these warring politicians genuinely have our interests at the top of their agenda.
When will they take a good hard look at our now near desperate situation and begin with the police service?