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State concedes in teen’s lawsuit: Minor in wrong jail

Published: 
Thursday, August 20, 2015
State attorney Karel Douglas leaves the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. PHOTO: MARCUS GONZALES

High Court Judge Vasheist Kokaram will today decide whether a 14-year-old boy accused of murder should be released into the custody of his mother. 

Lawyers representing the teenager proposed the unconventional move, which is in direct contradiction of bail legislation that does not allow for release of prisoners charged with murder under any circumstance, yesterday after both Kokaram and attorneys for the State conceded that his detention at the Youth Training Centre in Arouca over the past 18 months was unlawful. 

Presenting submissions on behalf of the teenager from Diego Martin in the Port-of-Spain High Court, his lawyer Senior Counsel Anand Ramlogan stated that his stay at the facility breached his client’s fundamental constitutional rights as YTC was only allowed to house inmates and remand prisoners who are between 16 and 18 years old. 

“Our primary concern is to get him out of YTC because he has been put in a place where convicted persons, who are not of his age, are kept. To keep the child there amounts to child cruelty,” Ramlogan said. State attorney Karel Douglas agreed with Ramlogan’s statement but noted that a conditional release to his parents was not an option which the State was willing to accept. 

While he was forced to admit that there were no facilities in T&T which were approved by the Children’s Authority to house the teen, Douglas suggested that the teen be held temporarily at the St Michael’s Home for Boys in Diego Martin. 

“I admit that there is not the best but under the circumstances it is the only option,” Douglas said after a representative from the authority who was present in court informed Kokaram that the home was not given approval based on issues with security, the facilities and lack of training of staff to properly care for juvenile offenders. 

As he pointed to the concerns raised by the representative, Ramlogan said he was also hesitant to accede to the suggestion because the Children’s Act and Children’s Community Residences, Foster Care and Nurseries Act, which govern the court’s handling of minors charged with serious crimes, require that offenders be only housed in approved facilities. 

He said the child should not continue to be subjected to unlawful and unconstitutional detention at another inappropriate facility because the State had failed to facilitate the implementation of all the provisions of the legislation. “If Parliament has provided that you be detained in accordance with the law and that is not provided then your constitutional right to liberty and to not be deprived of it without due process of law becomes paramount,” Ramlogan said. 

In response, Douglas raised the issue of the precedent that may be set if Kokaram opted to grant the child bail. “It sets a bad precedent and may open the floodgates for other persons who may seek release when charged with murder,” Douglas said. Besides the illegality and suitability of his place of detention, the teen is also claiming that he suffered abuse during his stay at the facility. 

Speaking through his mother, a witness in the case, the teenager alleged that he was constantly physically abused by older residents who robbed him of his food and toiletries. The teenager was not brought to court for yesterday’s hearing. However, Kokaram ordered that he be present at 2 pm today. 

The teenager is also being represented by Gerald Ramdeen, Kent Samlal, Varun Debideen and Delicia Helwig.