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Remove minor from ‘adult jail’

Published: 
Friday, August 21, 2015
Attorney Anand Ramlogan, SC, centre, speaks to the mother of his 14-year-old client, who is incarcerated for murder, outside the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. Looking on is attorney Gerald Ramdeen. PHOTO: NICOLE DRAYTON

The newly-formed Children’s Authority has been given one week (next Friday) to find a suitable location for the detention of a 14-year-old murder accused from Diego Martin.

High Court Judge Vasheist Kokaram made the order yesterday after granting lawyers representing the child, who can not be named as he is a minor, permission to challenge the teen’s detention at the Youth Training Centre (YTC), Arouca, as being unlawful and unconstitutional. 

Kokaram’s decision is being regarded as a landmark ruling as it is the first time in T&T’s history that a someone has successfully petitioned the court over its ability to send minors on remand to prison facilities used for adult and teenaged prisoners. 

Stating that the child’s lawyers had raised a valid claim, Kokaram noted that legislation governing the criminal justice system’s handling of minors charged with serious crimes only provided for boys between the ages of 16 and 18 years old to be housed at YTC.  

In his oral judgment, Kokaram also took note of the fact that while the legislation provided that accused children under 16 be detained at community residences, specially designed and staffed homes for troubled children, none have been approved by the authority since it was established almost three months ago. 

Kokaram said he was cautious in applying another option suggested by the teen’s lead attorney, Anand Ramlogan, who proposed that the boy be released in his mother’s care until the issue of a proper location for his detention is determined, as murder was not a bailable offence and the boy was alleged to have committed the offence while in his mother’s custody. 

“I have to balance the welfare of the child with the public’s right to prosecution of crimes,” Kokaram said. 

Ramlogan took issue with the solution chosen by Kokaram as he questioned the authority’s ability to meet the deadline and to find an appropriate facility.

“There might be a situation where they come back and say there are no suitable facilities in T&T. Then what are we going to do,” Ramlogan said as he noted that he was concerned that his client might have to be kept at YTC for an inordinate period. 

In response, Kokaram adjourned the case to September 3, when the boys lawyers will be given an opportunity to find an alternative if none is selected. Once a location is chosen by the authority, the teen is to be transfered immediately to that facility. 

As part of his ruling, Kokaram also ordered the Prisons Service to provide a list of residents of YTC who were similarly circumstanced to the teen and whom his decision may apply. He also directed the authority to tour and inspect YTC and to provide a report to the court. 

The teenager is also being represented by Gerald Ramdeen and Varun Debideen while Karel Douglas represented the State.