Senator: Dana row undermines system of justice

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Senators Jearlean John, Jayanti Lutchmedial-Ramdial and David Nakhid at a sitting of the Senate, Parliament, Port of Spain, on Friday. – Angelo Marcelle

OPPOSITION Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial-Ramdial on Friday, May 17, warned that a row between two public agencies over the delay in prosecuting the decade-old Dana Seetahal murder case could end up denting the public’s confidence in TT’s system of justice.

The judiciary electronically sent 8,000 pages of documents to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) but he said the law required them to be sent in paper form, although Attorney General Reginald Armour recently said the Electronic Transactions Act which says that electronic documents were valid did apply to court documents.

Lutchmedial-Ramdial spoke in the Senate on the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) (Amendment) Bill 2024, whose 2011 parent act was known as AJIPA.

She said the judicial system was a system made of many entities which all had to be on the same page and must each understand what the others were doing.

“The case of one of our legal luminaries who was unfortunately taken way too soon from us and that matter pending and there being some confusion about the transmission of a committal bundle, highlights the need for us to streamline processes.

“I would hope that unfortunate scenario that’s played out would lead to some deeper analysis as to what changes need to be made, whether they be legislative or whether they be just simply procedural things that have to be put in place, whether it’s a resource problem.

“Or whether it is simply people need to start speaking to each other, a little more frequently, and have someone take the lead in ensuring that we smooth out these processes so that we don’t run into these issues with such a glaring public display.

Lutchmedial-Ramdial mulled the wider effect of such scenarios.

“It will eventually play out in the media, it will go away, but there is a damage that is caused to confidence in the overall system of justice in Trinidad and Tobago.

“So as we have this major paradigm shift towards what AJIPA has envisioned we have to ensure we iron out all these creases. There are some big ones that cause a lot of discomfort among members of the public.” She hoped that entities like the DPP’s office were properly resourced to carry out changes under AJIPA, so that the system of justice would not hit another bottleneck down the line.

The bill lets public officers who have police-like investigative powers – such as customs and excise officers and Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) officers – be deemed “police officers” for the purpose of taking a witness statement to be filed by a prosecutor in a court case. The bill’s explanatory note lamented a gap in the 2011 parent act, whereby tax investigators who record statements were hitherto not recognised as police officers. Lutchmedial-Ramdial said it was the former People’s Partnership government in 2011 that had replaced the old system of preliminary inquiries with sufficiency hearings to allow for quicker court cases, to the relief of victims, such that “Society felt justice was served.”

Lutchmedial-Ramdial said it was the UNC that had stood up to the Government to insist that customs and tax officers who will be absorbed by the Revenue Authority would remain under independent control and not be placed under the Finance Minister.

In view of the current bill which deems customs and tax officers as police officers, she said, “Those investigative powers would have come under a board appointed by a minister.

“We fought so strongly for their independence.”