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Govt to amend Administration of Justice Act
Government will soon be heading to Parliament in a bid to amend the remaining sections of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act 2011. Sources say discussions have been taking place between Justice Minister Christlyn Moore and Chief Justice Ivor Archie to find the best way to facilitate the transition.
Sunday Guardian understands that the Voluntary Bill of Indictment is currently in preparation stage by the Justice Ministry. The bill, sources said, will seek to remove the need for masters in the High Court. Initially, it was agreed that ten additional masters would be appointed to preside over matters.
But, sources said, the Justice Ministry hopes that by introducing the Voluntary Bill of Indictment on a phased basis it will assist in shortening the committal time of murder accused from a lengthy wait of six or more years to two to three years. In his address at the opening of the 2012-2013 law term last September, Archie said the judiciary would not be rushed through the process of eliminating preliminary inquiries.
He said, “It is clear that any new system that is put in place will have to absorb a huge influx of new matters in addition to those already in the system, for which transitional arrangements have to be made.” Referring to Section 34 of the Act, which had to be repealed after its early proclamation, Archie maintained that such implementation ought to have been done as a whole and not partially.
The Administration of Justice Act, which was supposed to have come into effect on January 2, would have seen all preliminary inquiries at the magistrates courts being abolished and replaced by sufficiency hearings taking place before masters of the High Court. However, on December 31, Moore, in a media release revealed the implementation date needed to be pushed back after meetings with various stakeholders.
Moore said following discussions with Cabinet, President Richards was advised to revoke the proclamation appointing January 2, 2013 as the date for several sections of the act to come into effect. She had indicated that following meetings with stakeholders, inclusive of the Judiciary, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Law Association, the Bar Association and the T&T Police Service, mechanisms were not in place to facilitate the act.
The sections identified were 3(2), 3(3), 4 to 31, 33, 35 and Schedules 1 to 5, 7 and 8 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011. At the time, sources had indicated there was too much infrastructure (needed) for the change to take effect. Apart from the appointments of ten additional masters, other logistical details such as additional staffing at the High Court and office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, as well as the Criminal Proceedings Rules were yet to be finalised.
Justice Minister responds
Contacted on the matter Moore said: “There is nothing currently before Parliament to that effect. “Currently, there is no such provision before the Parliament as we speak.” Asked whether her ministry was in fact working on tabling the Voluntary Bill of Indictment, the Justice Minister said such an amendment will require parliamentary intervention and “as it stands now, there is nothing to that effect.”
Moore said with regards to the implementation of the act, all stakeholders inclusive of the Chief Justice were consulted, following which the August date was agreed to.
The act as it stands
As it currently stands, instead of preliminary inquiries in the magistrates courts, there will be sufficiency hearings.
These involve the prosecution bringing all witness statements before a master. If there is sufficient evidence or a prima facie case is made out, then the accused is committed to stand trial, thus bypassing the magistrates courts. The act, according to the Justice Ministry, is geared towards reducing the time frame in which criminal matters are heard in the High Court and reducing the workload of the magistrates courts and the backlog of cases there.
In August 2012, the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011 was partially proclaimed by Richards. The proclamation was gazetted on August 30. Section 34 of the act would have allowed some accused to apply for the charges against them to be dropped if the offences in question had been committed more than ten years previously.
Following its early proclamation there was uproar from various sectors. Archie, along with the head of the Criminal Bar Association, Pamela Elde, SC, and DPP Roger Gaspard, SC, said they had not been informed of the contentious section. In September 2012, the PM fired justice minister Herbert Volney, who piloted the act through both Houses of Parliament.
In her address, Persad-Bissessar maintained there was no conspiracy behind the early proclamation and Volney had acted on his own accord and misled her Cabinet. She said: “The Minister of Justice had a duty to faithfully and accurately represent the position and views of the Honourable Chief Justice and the DPP. He failed to do so and the Cabinet relied and acted on his assurances in good faith.”
The early proclamation would have seen 47 individuals freed
Among the 47 are businessmen, United National Congress financiers Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson; former finance minister Brian Kuei-Tung; former works minister Sadiq Baksh; former chairmen of the Airports Authority Tyrone Gopee and Ameer Edoo; former client representative in the Ministry of Works at the airport project Peter Cateau; financial director Amrith Maharaj; along with former prime minister Basdeo Panday and his wife, Oma.
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