Lutchmedial: PNM undermining public confidence in judges

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

UNC Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial –

OPPOSITION Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial charged that no other political party in TT’s history has undermined public confidence in judges like the PNM has.

She made his charge in her contribution to debate on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Trial By Judge Alone) Bill, 2023 in the Senate on Friday.

Lutchmedial also questioned whether judge-alone trials provided a greater level of transparency and fairness to all participants in the criminal justice system than jury trials.

Looking across the chamber at the government senators sitting opposite her, Lutchmedial declared, “No government has done more to undermine confidence in the Judiciary.”

She made no reference to any past or current matter when she made this statement.

As a practising attorney, Lutchmedial agreed with Attorney General Reginald Armour SC’s observations about the backlog in the criminal justice system and challenges with the jury trial system.

On the latter, she recalled one such trial having to be quashed after several months because a particular view was allowed to fester unchecked within a jury, compromising its ability to discharge its duty fairly and objectively.

She also said that when it came to sexual offences, a jury which is female dominated may not be the best one to reach a fair decision.

While Lutchmedial accepted that no citizen has a constitutional right to a jury trial, she did not agree with the view that judge-alone trials were a viable alternative to replace jury trials.

She observed the bill seeks to amend the Jury Act to reduce the number of jurors in non-capital offence matters and capital offence matters from nine to six and 12 to nine jurors, respectively.

As people who do not ordinarily mingle on a regular basis with the average citizen, Lutchmedial wondered whether judges on their own are capable of properly assessing certain matters.

“Judges do not experience life as ordinary people do.”

Referring to comments from the Law Association (LATT) which she received before the debate, Lutchmedial said the association shared her views about the pros and cons of jury trials to those of judge alone trials.

In a signed letter sent to the clerk of the Senate on Friday, LATT was concerned that the proposed reductions in the number of jurors in capital and non-capital offence matters could “have an adverse effect on the fairness of deliberation.”

Lutchmedial said the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) wants debate on the bill to be suspended so there could be more consultation about it.

In a statement on Thursday, CBA president Israel Khan SC described the bill as “piecemeal erosion of fair trial protections guaranteed to citizens accused of criminal conduct.”

Khan claimed the bill removes the entitlement of people to trial by judge and jury, relegating it “to a mere option and eventually subject to further incursions by the AG.”

Lutchmedial said under the existing law, the relatives of judges and attorneys cannot serve as jurors.

She wondered if the same applies to the lay assessors which the bill caters for.

While there must be a balance between expedition and fairness in the handling of criminal cases before the court, Lutchmedial reminded senators of the common thread which exists between the victims and the accused in these matters.

“These are people’s lives that we are talking about.”