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AG: New bill coming soon to Parliament
New and modern legislation is on its way to abolish preliminary inquiries and repeal the contentious Administration of Justice Act, which was behind the controversial Section 34 fiasco in 2012, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said yesterday. The AG said the new Abolition of Preliminary Inquiries Bill will be brought to Parliament shortly to replace the controversial Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act.
Ramlogan, speaking with reporters at the United National Congress (UNC) Youth Arm’s “Live Your Life Fun and Family Day” at Palmiste Park, San Fernando, said modern legislation is coming to replace the act. “I will also be coming to the Parliament very shortly with a bill to abolish the preliminary inquiries,” Ramlogan said.
“It is a bill that will repeal the old Administration of Justice Act that sought to do that, which we know has been afflicted with all sorts of problems. We will be seeking to repeal that and introduce a new simplified and more modern version of the abolition of preliminary inquiries bill.” The Section 34 fiasco had far-reaching consequences and placed the Government in an embarrassing position, eventually leading to the firing of justice minister Herbert Volney.
Section 34 saga
In August 2012, Volney approached Cabinet seeking the early proclamation of a few sections of the act, among them Section 34. Section 34 prescribed a limitation period for prosecution of ten years in respect of certain offences, excluding treason, murder, kidnapping rape, assault, drug trafficking and arms and ammunition possession.
Volney, in his note to Cabinet on August 6, 2012, informed his colleagues that after consultation with the Chief Justice, it had been agreed that the act should come into force in its entirety on January 2, 2013. The act was enacted by both Houses of Parliament on December 2011 and received the assent of then President George Maxwell Richards on December 16, 2011.
On September 10, 2012, Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, SC, wrote to Ramlogan indicating his concern with Section 34 and its implications for the pending Piarco prosecutions. The DPP said he was unaware of Section 34 and what it sought to achieve.
The passing of the act created a public furore after the media reported that it meant businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson, one-time UNC financiers, and others charged in the Piarco Airport corruption cases could have been freed of charges. A special three-fifth’s parliamentary majority was obtained and Section 34 was repealed with retroactive effect in the Lower House on September 12, 2012, and was passed in the Upper House the next day.
More legislation coming
Yesterday, Ramlogan also said the Government will be bringing a miscellaneous bill to deal with matters pertaining to jury tampering, witness tampering and evidence via video link. Electronic recording of interview statements by police officers will also be included in that bill. He said this will “minimise the possibility to challenges by defence counsel in court when they claim that the (client’s) confession was not voluntarily given, when they claim that it was in fact extorted by the police.”
Ramlogan said it is expected that debate on the amendments to the Bail Amendment Bill, which were approved by the Senate, will be debated next Friday.