“Trinidad and Tobago,” I patiently repeated for the second time.
“What?” She frustratingly retorted.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has provided us with images from Cairo the Capital of Egypt, with Hosni Mubarak, deposed former President of Egypt entering an Egyptian court to answer charges brought against him by the new state authorities of that country. Mubarak was President of Egypt for more than 30 years and he is now an old man in his middle 80s. He is also a very sick man who needs constant round-the-clock medical care.
The image that strikes most observers is that of Hosni Mubarak being taken to the courtroom flat on his back on a bed. Egypt has a civilisation that is more than 5,000 years old and when it comes to suspected political wrong doing, not even a sick former head of state is exempt. In our own Trinidad and Tobago, we witness a former prime minister of the country, Mr Basdeo Panday making repeated appearances in court. He answers charges levelled against him when he was prime minister.
Panday underwent triple bypass surgery in London and must suffer the effects that are linked to that type of surgical invasion. He is also in his 80s and no one has asked that he be exempt from prosecutions. Yet, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), by letter dated March 1, 2013 forwarded to the Maha Sabha’s attorney Mr Jagdeo Singh, speaks of age and ill-health as reason not to prosecute former prime minister Patrick Manning in his role of awarding a radio licence to Citadel Ltd in “priority to Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha.”
DPP Roger K Gaspard SC says in paragraph 43, “This decision as to whether a prosecution is required, is influenced by other considerations such as whether the loss or harm is minor; whether it was a result of a single incident; or whether the conduct in issue may have been occasioned by a misjudgment. The age of the matter is also a factor to be considered.”
At paragraph 45 he continues, “It is an established fact in the public domain that Mr Manning has recently suffered two strokes having had heart surgery and now lives with a pacemaker. He has been absent from parliament for over 13 months. If a suspect is suffering from significant ill health this is a factor that could influence whether a prosecution should proceed, especially if the offence is not likely to be repeated. In the instant matter there is no complaint nor is there any suggestion or evidence that it was.”
And at paragraph 46 he wrote: “Although Mr Bereaux might not be similarly circumstanced since he was not the head of Cabinet, it can be said that he performed a subsidiary role in the entire transaction. As such if it is decided not to proceed against Mr Manning then it would be impractical and evidentially difficult against Mr Bereaux.”
The Maha Sabha fails to understand some of the logic of the DPP, especially when he makes the point that, “the offence is not likely to be repeated.” Mr Manning will not ever be prime minister of T&T again so the livelihood that the offence will be repeated does not arise. It is also unlikely that Basdeo Panday will be able to repeat whatever offence he is charged with, yet he is being pursued.
The DPP also speaks of Mr Bereaux performing “a subsidiary role in the entire transaction” and since “it would be impractical and evidentially difficult,” no prosecutions of Mr Bureaux either.
In my own experience and the experience of the Maha Sabha, it is a role of the judge or presiding magistrate to take into account health and other factors when passing judgment on a convicted felon. We also thought that a person who plays “subsidiary role” in the commission of a crime is also guilty. But then the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha is not a law firm.
On March 12, the Director of Public Prosecutions wrote a lengthy rebuttal to the Express’s editorial to which we have earlier referred. He pointed out: “It cannot be gainsaid that the level of criminal activity in Trinidad and Tobago is unacceptable but the prosecution of matters still depends on the quality of evidence. “In any democracy the role of the press is paramount and critical scrutiny is desirable, healthy and wholesome and must be encouraged.”
We in the Maha Sabha have absolute faith and confidence in our local justice system. We also believe that matters of guilt or innocence must be left to the judges and juries to decide. We do not believe that there should be selective prosecution at any level of our legal system. According to the Law Dictionary by Steven H Gifis, Judicial Review is “The review by a court of law of some act, or failure to act, by a government official or entity, or some other legally appointed or organised body.”
In this matter of the Maha Sabha radio licence, we have asked our attorney to advise whether we have a case for judicial review.