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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has openly requested the assistance of former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj to ensure the death penalty for convicted killers can be executed in T&T.
Rowley revealed this during yesterday’s post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, as he responded to a question on the death of WPC Nyasha Joseph, whose body was found at the Caroni River mouth on Wednesday, six days after she was reported missing.
There have been increased calls by citizens for the death penalty to be enforced in the wake of a spiralling murder rate for the first three months of this year. The murder toll stood at 104 up to yesterday.
For several years the death penalty has not been carried out because of the state’s inability to meet the fiveyear limit given for the completion of such cases, as ruled by the Privy Council in the Pratt and Morgan case.
During Maharaj’s term as attorney General in 1999, Dole Chadee and his gang were executed after being convicted on murder charges.
Rowley said yesterday that the country was traumatised by the spate of murders being committed in the country, adding it was “persistent constant crudity that seems to have become the order of the day in T&T.”
Admitting that the Government had the responsibility to ensure there was law enforcement in the country, Rowley said he felt the pain of the families who wake up to news of another murder on a daily basis. He said those in the minority who were committed to a life of crime in this country were doing so because there appears to be a lack of consequence for their actions.
He said the criminals also seemed “convinced that nothing is going to happen to them.”
The PM said he was not going to be making any “apologies to anybody in this country for what I am going to say here. I am a firm believer in capital punishment and it is not as a result of any deterrent, it is the punishment for the crime.”
He said things will change for those in T&T who were “acting with impunity” and believe that nothing will happen, noting those “who have chosen crime as a way of life will pay the ultimate penalty.
“To ensure that we are properly guided by that, I as PM have communicated openly with former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, who has provided a pathway for the Office of the Attorney General to make sure that what exists now can be utilised to ensure what they (murderers) are doing to us, that at least some of them will have their day in court. And at the end of that, if they are unsuccessful in their escape they will pay the penalty laid down in T&T,” Rowley said.
He said Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi had set up a team in his ministry to track the status of convicted killers to see how soon any of them can be executed according to law. Rowley, who is also chairman of the National Security Council, said he was also “very concerned” about information reaching him that incarcerated people were “running criminal empires from inside the jail, even when they are isolated it is still going on and we are going to take steps to ensure that doesn’t go on.”
On the issue of the deportation of convicted killers under new US President Donald Trump’s administration, Rowley said it was a serious matter. He said, however, that former US President Barack Obama “deported more people than any other US President.” Saying deportees from the US “come home to join our local production”, the PM said this was why the work of Vision of Mission was being fully supported by the Government and he had asked the Finance Minister to see if he could give the organisation more support.
Contacted yesterday, Maharaj confirmed that Rowley communicated with him “and I made available to the Government Peter Pursglove SC, whom headed the Case Management Unit in the Ministry of the Attorney General.”
Maharaj said he also supplied the document prepared by Purseglove and asked his colleague to make himself available to the Government to provide any further assistance required. Maharaj said he was convinced that the death penalty can be carried out in T&T, but noted there must be a proactive case management unit within the Ministry of the AG.
He said the AG must work with the Ministry of National Security and the Judiciary to ensure there was no undue delay in the cases to allow for the death penalty to be executed within the law. He also said his service was being provided to the Government pro bono.
“It is not a job because I am engaged in private practice. If Government needs my assistance from time to time I am prepared to give it,” Maharaj told the T&T Guardian.
He said there was no problem with his assisting his country despite the fact that the request was made by those who have traditionally held opposing political views to his. Yesterday, Al-Rawi said in February, some 33 killers were on death row. However, he said only 11 of those killers were still within the five-year limit based on the Pratt and Morgan ruling.