Judge: Errant cops should pay damages from own pockets

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

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A HIGH COURT judge is again advocating for errant police officers to pay victims of their malicious prosecution either all or a portion of the compensation awarded by the courts.

Justice Frank Seepersad is also suggesting that the State revisit its approach with a view to settling those cases where the evidence of wrongdoing on the part of agents of the State was pellucid.

He made the recommendations after awarding a Biche farmer a total of $168,500 plus interest and costs after he successfully sued for malicious prosecution. He was arrested during the 2011 state of emergency on a drug trafficking charge.

Franklyn Ali was riding his bicycle on Plum Mitan Road on September 17, 2011, when a police officer stopped him and took him to a friend’s home nearby. He was made to sit on a staircase while Eastern Division Task Force police searched the house without a warrant. They allegedly found a bucket containing marijuana.

Five years after he was charged, he was eventually discharged in the magistrates’ court for want of prosecution. He also spent five months on remand before he was able to access bail.

His attorneys Lemuel Murphy and Abigail Roach contended the police had no probable cause to charge their client, as they had no proof he was in possession of the marijuana or had knowledge it was in the bucket at the other man’s house.

They also contended the police abused their powers under the emergency regulations to search the premises without a warrant, alleging also the police concocted the evidence against Ali.

On the latter, the judge found no evidence of concoction. However, he said on the evidence, there was none to suggest the police had reasonable cause to believe Ali knew of or had control of the drugs.

He said because there was the absence of the critical element of “knowledge and control” as provided for in legislation, the court inferred there was “malice” on the part of the police in charging Ali.

Seepersad said just because the incident took place during a state of emergency did not mean the police could shirk their responsibility to ensure a charge was supported by evidence.

In Ali’s case, he said there was total disregard and misunderstanding of the operative law on the part of the police in laying the charge.

He also said it was unacceptable and difficult to understand why in malicious prosecution cases, the State has not intervened to hold offending officers either wholly or partially responsible for the damages awarded by the court when a case was successfully established.

Seepersad said despite numerous calls by other judges for errant police officers to be held accountable, nothing has materialised.

“Offending officers cannot be allowed to continue without an element of accountability,” he said, urging that steps should be taken to prevent police from depriving citizens of their rights without legal justification.

“Yet again taxpayers must bear the burden.”

He was also critical of the State for defending the case to trial, saying more than ten years after the 2011 SoE, the courts are still inundated with litigation from that period.

He said there must be the requisite training of police officers so they are aware that even during a state of emergency, the rule of law does not fall by the wayside.

“An SoE does not eviscerate rights.”

Seepersad further said with the country now discussing access to justice, it was the court’s view that this case should not have gone to trial.

“The State must revisit its approach,” he said, adding that it has been observed there seems to be an unwillingness to settle cases which should be settled.

“The State has a heightened responsibility not to defer the inevitable.”

He said every case that went to trial that could have been settled deprived someone else of that trial period. This, he added, did not contribute to an efficient justice system.

The State was represented at the trial on Monday by attorney Tricia Ramlogan.