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‘Don’t let her death be in vain’
Wake up T&T, assess ways to deal with the latest form of “terror tactics.” Grief, warm memories and calls for the country to stand unflinching against elements, such as the killers of slain senior counsel Dana Seetahal, were the alternating sentiments in the Senate yesterday where Seetahal once served as an independent senator.
Last Sunday’s early morning assassination of Seetahal in Woodbrook by ambushing gunmen, cast a pall over yesterday’s Senate session where tributes to her were the first order of business and legislators urged action following her murder. Seetahal served as an Independent senator between 2002 and 2010. The Senate observed a minute’s silence on her passing. Independent Senator Anthony Vieira appeared to choke up while paying tribute to Seetahal with whom he had worked on the legal circuit.
Solemn lengthy tributes came from Senate President Timothy Hamel-Smith, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, PNM Senator Faris Al-Rawi and Independent Senator Rolph Balgobin.
“As we ponder this great tragedy and ask how can we live and what can we do to make sure Dana did not die in vain...it’s absolutely vital that all of us who collectively make up the stakeholders in the criminal justice system, including us as legislators, the Judiciary, Police Service, defence lawyers, prosecutors, office of the DOPP, the Justice Ministry and the media, take up the challenge to overhaul the system, from top to bottom,” Hamel-Smith said.
He noted concerns by the US State Department about local institutions in the anti-crime and drug war. These included strict adherence to rigid, often outdated methodologies by “mid-level officials” and restrictive decision-making systems that don’t empower functionaries and limited the ability of critical T&T organisations to keep pace with highly flexible criminal organisations.
Hamel-Smith said: “If we allow the murdering of those involved in the criminal justice system to pass without overhauling the system we are destined to return to the law of the jungle. “Indeed we started on this slippery slope sometime ago when witnesses were murdered or started losing their memories or simply disappeared. “In memory of Dana and as a tribute to excellence let’s leave no stone unturned in ensuring our criminal justice system is re-engineered to serve the cause of justice.”
Independent Senator Vieira, who said he and Seetahal worked on certain cases together, said she was “brutally and foully assassinated.” He said: “This dastardly and cowardly murder is a new low, setting a dangerous and destabilising precedent...this is a solemn moment in the course of T&T’s struggle for law and order. This infamy casts a stain on the pages of our history.”
Appearing to choke up slightly, he continued: “This pre-meditated and carefully executed assassination goes beyond the murder of a defenceless woman. It represents an attack on our justice system and on law and order itself. “We need to understand the implications for the well-being and safety of our beloved nation. Dana Seetahal’s murder is a wake-up call. It mandates us to reassess our country’s character and purpose.
“It calls for frank assessment of the existing deficiencies in our criminal justice system and our law enforcement and security capabilities, particularly bearing in mind T&T falls within a network of drug trafficking and drug-related crimes. “It calls us to consider whether our law enforcement architecture has the requisite capability to effectively address this latest form of terror tactics and the non-traditional types of crime.”
Saying T&T can no longer proceed in a customary relaxed manner, Vieira said: “We need to restore public confidence and reduce the feelings of insecurity and disquiet which now grip T&T.” He said an upgrading of security laws was needed to develop intelligence-gathering capabilities and allocate the necessary resources to protect those serving at the frontline and those at risk.
He echoed the demand of Director of Police Complaints Authority Gillian Lucky for protection for judges, magistrates and prosecutors handling high-profile criminal cases.