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Obsolete offences clogging criminal justice system

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Criminal Justice System of T&T is suffering under the burden of enforcing obsolete laws that contribute little to the welfare and safety of our nation. While murder and violence paint our streets red with blood, police and prison officers are wasting precious time arresting and imprisoning people for trivialities like obscene language and the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

In a speech given by the Chief Justice, it was said that the monthly cost of keeping someone in prison is $13,000. This most likely does not take into account the administrative costs of arresting them or the time spent in court dealing with their case. 

We can safely infer that millions of dollars are spent annually, incarcerating people for offences that cause no serious harm to society. These wasted resources should be spent expanding the budget of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), which would speed up the prosecution of more serious crimes. 

The DPP himself Mr Roger Gaspard SC has recently stated that the limited budget for his department is one of the reasons for delays in the criminal justice system. 

Israel Khan SC, Chairman of the Legal Aid and Advisory Authority, was quoted by the Newsday on March 22, as saying “The Criminal Justice system is about to collapse” citing 10-year delays in dealing with the 700 indictments for murder presently before the courts.

Instead of ludicrous promises like “We bringing back hanging” politicians should come up with practical ways to improve the justice system. The Pratt and Morgan ruling by the Privy Council only stops hanging if there is a delay of more than five years between sentencing and hanging. Our justice system is simply too inefficient to implement the death penalty in accordance with the Pratt and Morgan decision.

In order to cut costs and increase the efficiency of our Justice System, I propose that legislation be tabled to remove the penalty of imprisonment for as many petty crimes as possible. 

Instead, make them ticketable offences and impose fines. This would generate income for the state while simultaneously deterring crimes. Fines would also serve as a good compromise to assuage the more conservative members of society, who fear moral decay if these laws are changed.

When the court system is no longer drowning in backlog due to minor crimes, resources could be better employed to deal with serious crimes, such as murder and rape. 

Jonathan Bhagan