Rape case takes 41 years to be tried, Judiciary figures reveal

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

FORTY-ONE years. That’s how long it took one rape case from the filing of an indictment to its determination in 2019.

In that year, two other rape cases -30 years and 23 years respectively – also came to an end.

These were the startling revelations provided by the Judiciary in response to requests from attorneys representing a rape victim who has sued the Judiciary for the inordinate delay in treating sexual offences.

Sunday Newsday featured the victim’s story on May 8. Her constitutional claim calls on the authorities to put mechanisms in place and allocate sufficient resources to ensure criminal matters can be concluded expeditiously.

The claim says, “The criminal justice system is in crisis and the State has failed to put mechanisms in place and allocate sufficient resources to ensure that criminal matters can be concluded expeditiously.”

Statistics from the Judiciary for 2016-2021 show that 66 rape cases were determined at the High Court. The minimum length of time from the filing of an indictment to determination was nine months, while the maximum was 41 years. The average was six years.

In her lawsuit, the victim said the delays in her case have caused her psychological harm and she cannot effectively receive treatment for her trauma until the case is concluded.

“The law does not provide victims of crime with any remedy for the failure of the courts to determine their cases expeditiously.”

Her attorneys, Lee Merry and Larry Boyer, have complained that the figures from the Judiciary are lacking since they did not want statistics only for rape cases, but all criminal matters. They also wanted to know the length of time between the laying of a charge, not indictment, and the conclusion of the matter.

The civil claim also challenges the assertion that if a victim is not interested in a rape case, the matter cannot proceed. The lawsuit contends this is not true. A victim, regardless of whether she is interested in pursuing the case, is not the person bringing the case: the person in charge is the prosecutor (ultimately the DPP), and a decision can be made to go ahead with the case despite the victim’s reluctance to do so, the lawsuit maintains.

“There are specific laws which allow the prosecution to rely on a victim’s statement to the police in support of the charge even if the victim says something different while giving evidence.”

In her lawsuit, the victim said when she was asked if she was still interested in pursuing the five-year-old case, she was confused. It was also hurtful.

“I decided to report my attacker, give the police a written statement, and expected the police and prosecutors to fight my case, not second-guess whether I am interested.

“When I was asked whether I was ‘interested,’ it made me feel like, once again, I had to make the difficult decision about whether to proceed with this whole thing. It made me second-guess if I wanted to go through the whole court system.

“If I was not so determined to see my (alleged) attacker brought to justice, I might very well have said that I was not interested when I was asked by the prosecutor.

“It is a loaded question and I do not think it should be asked of any victim of crime.”

In March, the Prime Minister bemoaned the slow pace of justice. He said his Government had given it priority, providing hundreds of millions of dollars in resources to the Judiciary but, speaking as a citizen, he said he has not seen “any acceleration in the delivery of justice.”

On Monday, with the re-emergence of a 1997 report on children’s homes, Dr Rowley called on acting Police Commissioner McDonald Jacob to find the report of the taks force led by Robert-Sabga, investigate it and bring to justice those guilty of committing acts of abuse at these homes.

A more recent report by retired appeal court judge Judith Jones also spoke of rampant abuse at these institutions.

There is no statute of limitations for bringing a criminal complaint. Jacob has reportedly created a special team to investigate the allegations, led by acting Supt Claire Guy-Alleyne, head of the police Gender-Based Violence Unit.