Government to decide future of judge-alone trial bill

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, during the debated on the proposed judge-alone legislation in the Senate on Friday. – Office of the Parliament

GOVERNMENT officials were reluctant to say why debate of the Miscellaneous Provisions (Trial By Judge Alone) Bill, 2023 was suddenly halted in the Senate on Friday.

Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC’s was winding up debate of the bill in the Senate when acting leader of government business Paula Gopee-Scoon moved the Senate’s adjournment to May 16 at 10 am.

Asked what was the Government’s next step regarding the bill, Gopee-Scoon said, “I have no further details.”

She added that on May 16, the Senate will deal with the Finance (Supplementation and Variation of Appropriation) (Financial Year 2023) Bill, 2023, the mid-year review.

Minister in the Ministry of the AG and Legal Affairs Renuka Sagramsingh-Sooklal said on Saturday, “The next occasion the bill comes up, AG will wind up.”

Sagramsingh-Sooklal said Armour “in his wisdom will determine the direction the bill will proceed whether to committee stage or otherwise.”

As a practising attorney, Sagramsingh-Sooklal said judge-alone trials are not a cost to the state but to the accused. She added that in instances of a hung jury, a retrial happens.

“So your client pays for the first trial…then a re-trial and to add salt to injury he is still in remand.”

Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial believed that Armour did not complete his wind-up because he recognised the opposition to the bill coming from the Law Association (LATT) and the Criminal Bar Association (CBA).

She said a special select committee of the Senate may be a more appropriate way for Government to address concerns about the bill rather than “forcing this down the throat of the population using their (parliamentary) majority.”

“The opposition and independent bench made its position quite clear and if they proceed with this bill in the present form it will only demonstrate how dictatorial they are.”

Opposition Senator Jearlean John also believed the concerns raised inside and outside of Parliament about the bill, caused Government to pause.

“I think even a government who with every action demonstrates how little they care about the population with their endless stream of draconian policies and laws, had to take note of the strong opposing views.”Independent senator Dr Varma Deyalsingh said, “I don’t think it will be voted on in it’s present state when we return.”

He believed a JSC was the correct approach to move the bill forward.

Deyalsingh opined that concerns raised by the independent bench caused Armour to hit the pause button.

While there is a pressing need for the bill to go forward, Deyalsingh said in a JSC, amendments could be made which LATT and CBA could be comfortable with.

When he opened the debate, Armour expressed grave concern about a staggering 15,132 cases currently clogging the criminal justice system.

He identified judge-alone trials as an initiative which can help clear the backlog.

Later in the debate, Armour was questioned by opposition and independent senators about whether the bill was a move to abolish jury trials.

Independent senators Hazel Thompson-Ahye, Deyalsingh and Deoroop Teemal suggested the bill be sent to a joint select committee for closer examination.

In his wind-up, Armour said the bill was not stand alone legislation and there was no intention to abolish jury trials.