President of the Justice of the Peace Colin Baggan –
The Justices of the Peace Association of TT (JOPATT) says its members will not sign any warrants until it is able to clarify the impact of the Indictable Proceedings Act on their roles and functions.
The act was proclaimed last Tuesday, and JOPATT said its members were not officially made aware of the changes in the amended legislation.
In a statement last week, the judiciary said the amended law transformed the process for indictable matters, such as murder, kidnapping, money laundering and some forms of sexual abuse, by removing preliminary enquiries and allowing cases to go straight to the High Court.
The act also introduces initial hearings which will be conducted by a master of the High Court when the case is filed, or the next working day.
President of JOPATT Colin Baggan told Newsday the problem surrounded the wording of the law was that some members believed justices of the peace were no longer permitted to perform some functions.
“We need to be cautious about administering services regarding issuing of warrants to search houses or premises and arrest warrants for indictable offences.
“We were granted the authority to issue arrest warrants and search warrants.
If they’re saying that it’s now going to be done by the master of the court, is it only going to be done by the master of the court? Or are we to function within our normal duties?”
Baggan told Newsday JOPATT was never consulted while the amendments to the act were being drafted or passed.
He said JOPATT decided to get a legal opinion on the act and how it could affect its members’ roles and functions.
“If the (Indictable Proceedings) act supersedes the Justice Act, and it says that the master of the court is the one that will be signing warrants, then if we go ahead (signing warrants), we might be acting ultra vires and could be liable to civil procedures.
“So it is the view of the membership that we seek legal opinion on the act. And until we do that, we are just going on the side of caution, so that we do not get ourselves into conflict or be liable to get civil proceedings brought against us independently. Because we would have to face those proceedings out of our pocket, which we would not be able to afford.”
Baggan said it was not JOPATT’s intention to hold the public, the police and the judicial system to ransom.
He said, apart from warrants and granting bail, JOPATT’s members would perform all their other functions as usual.
“We will still function and we still will do authentications and ID parades…Our other duties, authentication of statements, assisting the public with documents and verification and authentication of signatures and affidavits and so on, we will perform that comfortably.”
Baggan said while he anticipated the legal advice would be completed in the coming week, he hoped the Attorney General would offer clarification.
He said he had also written to President Christine Kangaloo in the hopes that she would direct him to the relevant office in the Ministry of the Attorney General to discuss the matter and other issues.