Wednesday, July 29, 2015
The recent drama in Port of Spain involving three prisoners on remand who were facing serious charges involving (inter alia) murder and belonging to gangs has inadvertently high-lighted something else: the injustice that is prevalent in the Justice System. It is difficult to understand how a man could be locked up for six (count them: six) long years and not be convicted of a crime! Six years is 2,191 days (if there was only one leap year in the period)! Can you imagine that? Here was a man who was accused of some pretty horrendous crimes and yet after more than two thousand days the Justice System could not try and convict him or set him free!! What kind of justice was this? Answer: it is not justice! And no amount of excuses can make it appear to be excusable!
I personally am prepared to believe that Atwell was probably guilty of all that he was accused of and that he was a most dangerous criminal. But (and it is a huge "but") in a thousand years I cannot agree that justice was served by simply locking him up and effectively throwing away the key without giving him his day in Court. No man (or woman, for that matter) should have to wait for so long without knowing when he will be tried. It is as wrong as wrong can be. And no society that aspires to calling itself civilized and democratic can or should put up with this type of barbarism. For make no mistake: what we did to Atwell was barbaric. And it is no excuse to say 'oh well, the criminals are barbarians too'. Of course they are! But that does not give us the excuse to behave like they do. Two or even three wrongs have never made a right!
Like most people (I suspect) I was up until this last week-end blissfully unaware of the terrible injustices that are being inflicted by us ... the society ... upon those persons who, for one reason or another, have found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Oh! I knew that there were delays ... but not delays of thousands and thousands of days! What we are doing is terribly, terribly wrong. We are effectively creating a self-perpetuating system of breeding criminals. How can we talk about 'justice' with a straight face, when people ... citizens ... are locked up for years without a trial? And apparently Atwell's case is more the norm than the exception!!
Justice cannot be regarded as a convenience ... something that applies only to certain people. It must be meted out fairly to all of our citizens ... even the ones that we think are rotten to the core. And it is simply not right that a man (or woman) can be locked up for thousands of days without a trial. This is indefensible. Full stop!
Which leads me to the infamous Section 34 debacle: essentially, Section 34 was part of an overall Bill which sought to reform the Justice System. The section basically said that anybody who had been charged and whose trial was not yet concluded after ten years could apply to a Judge of the High Court to have his case thrown out. Well, we all know what happened after this section was proclaimed. It is not my intention here to go into the rights or wrongs of that argument, but what I do want to bring your attention to is the fact that Section 34 wasn't such a bad idea after all. Except, I would argue that five years is long enough. No man should have to wait forever and forever to have his case heard.
Put another way, obviously with a general election around the corner and with Section 34 being a big plank in the opposition PNM's political armory, nothing will happen right now. Voices of reason never can be heard above the political war cries inflamed by partisan passions. But when all the hoopla dies down, we should look at Section 34 again. It wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Posted by Robin Montano at 1:12 PM