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Dear Editor: Erosion of bail rights for gun possession could be first step on slippery slope

“People never seem to think that a breach of the rights of even one individual, means that that breach can apply to all. It is why the judiciary so staunchly defends the rights of even the most depraved of society…”

The following Letter to the Editor on proposed amendments to the Bail Act were submitted to Wired868 by Mohan Ramcharan of Birmingham, England:

Photo: A prison inmate.
(Copyright Getty)

Having listened carefully to the words of Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith and Attorney General Faris Al Rawi regarding the argument for erosion of rights for those arrested (possession of guns, murder et cetera), my concern lies in the potential for abuse and where the slippery slope principle comes in.

You see, I might be slightly cracked and paranoid, but I have good reason to be. Abuse of the judicial system in T&T is plethoric. Aside from that though, I come back to observations, not only historic but also judicial observations of some of the brightest legal minds in the past century.

Let us revisit the words of the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales at the 16th Commonwealth Law Conference, Hong Kong, on 9th April 2009:

“The places where things have gone wrong include countries which believed that they were mature democracies, where these things did not and could not happen, but they did. But they did.

“[…] There was, of course, no physical intimidation, no threat to security of judicial tenure, none of the extremes of tyranny. But it is the first steps which have to be watched. The first incursion by the executive into impropriety. The first compromise by the judiciary with principle…

“The problem with the phrase ‘eternal vigilance’ is that it appears to focus on the long term. But the focus is the immediate, today, every day. The insidious dangers are no less threatening than the obvious ones, and for the judiciary to acquiesce in the first small, even tiny, steps, may ultimately be terminal.”

Photo: I come to show what police can do…

Note carefully those words.

Now let us turn to Rawi Zorkin, President of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation who said:

“In the 20th century there have been 2 examples of legal tragedies which were developing in parallel. One was totalitarian Soviet Communism and the other German Nazism. In the USSR… The law was identified with statutory law, and law was identified with the will (or rather dictatorship) of the proletariat. Through such logic, whatever was prescribed by the state in the form of statutory law was lawful.

“[Adolf] Hitler followed yet a different ideological pathway, absolutely antagonistic to the communist ideology, but the result was the same. In Nazi Germany, law was the expression of the will of the German nation, and will of the German nation was incorporated in the Führer. Hence the law existed only as a body of statutory laws.

“Both systems were killing millions of people, because for both the law was given and contained in the statutes.”

I grant that the above are extreme examples where the rights of individuals within society were abused. My point is this: the abuse started with countries that never believed these things could happen, and with small incursions that chipped away at the rights of the individuals, with the approval of members of society who never thought that those incursions would turn against them later on.

Photo: Attorney general Faris Al Rawi.
(Courtesy Office of the Attorney General)

People never seem to think that a breach of the rights of even one individual, means that that breach can apply to all. It is why the judiciary so staunchly defends the rights of even the most depraved of society.

In chapter 7 of his most excellent book, The Rule of Law, the late Tom Bingham said:

“The state which savagely represses or persecutes sections of its people, cannot in my view be regarded as observing the rule of law…”

The right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law” is written in section 4 (a) of the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution. These rights are further guaranteed by section 11 which permits any person to: “request at any time during the period of that detention and thereafter…his case shall be reviewed by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law and presided over by a person appointed by the Chief Justice from among the persons entitled to practise in Trinidad and Tobago as barristers or solicitors.”

In reference to these particular rights, Bingham outlines what means by ‘due process of law’:

“Those cases relate to detention by court order following conviction; detention following breach of a court order; detention for the purpose of bringing a criminal suspect before a court or preventing him committing further offenses of fleeing after doing so; detention of a minor for educational purposes or to bring him before a competent authority; detention of persons of unsound mind, alcoholics or drug addicts, vagrants, and people afflicted by infectious diseases; or detention to prevent illegal entry into the country pending deportation or extradition. A person may not be detained unless his case falls within one or the other of these categories.

Photo: A judge calls for order.

“There are doubtless those who would wish to lock up all those suspected of terrorist and other serious offences and, in time-honoured phrase, throw away the key. But a suspect is by definition a person against whom no offence has been proved. Suspicions, even if reasonably entertained, may prove to be misplaced, as a series of tragic miscarriages of justice has demonstrated.

“Police officers and security officials can be wrong. It is a gross injustice to deprive of his liberty for significant periods a person who has committed no crime and does not intend to do so. No civilised country should willingly tolerate such injustices.”

Lord Donaldson observed, “We have all been brought up to believe, and do believe, that the liberty of the citizen under the law is the most fundamental of all freedoms.”

All this is background. What triggered my alarm is, it seems, the first step onto the slippery slope. Keep in mind that abuse comes to and from those who least expect it.

Editor’s Note: The Bail Amendment aims to deny bail specifically to persons arrested for holding automatic weapons and ‘weapons of war’. Click HERE for more details.

About Mohan Ramcharan

Mohan Ramcharan is a law student and a student of human nature and culture, who prefers cool logic to emotional ranting. A Trinidadian living in England, he observes the world through two lenses—and strives to share both views in his writing.

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2 comments

  1. “Police officers and security officials can be wrong. It is a gross injustice to deprive of his liberty for significant periods a person who has committed no crime and does not intend to do so. No civilized country should willingly tolerate such injustices.”
    It is a mistake to believe that T&T has the capacity to relegate the judicial arms and police service-albeit divisions well known for corruption-to the definitive and restrictive boundaries of consistent declarations of inaccuracy. The risks of that reality are best denied or buried in favor of the immediate reassurances of pointing an accusing finger at the most vulnerable or least politically favored. This issue is bigger than the denying of bail for firearms; it is about a justice system that is succumbing to the pressure of doing away with the long-winded democratic process and a fearless, thorough investigative process. That process-although sometimes flawed and not without its own corruptive influences-usually ensures justice is served. The place T&T has reached is one of desperation. The nation craves answers in ‘real-time’: wiretapping, bail denial, one-shot-one-kill…whatever it takes to give reassurance. It craves the ‘strongman’ approach that is ultimately in the service of the average, compliant citizen in need of that sense of security and the corrupted elements in the service of the ‘bigger fish’ who will never be brought to justice. The arms of justice in this country are only available to support those who just need the facade of peace. They will willingly tolerate injustice as long as it is not on their doorstep. No one is concerned about the slippery slope. They have no idea they are trading one kind of jail for another.

  2. Jail them. No bail. At all. For any use of an illegal firearm.