Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds’ announcement of the future establishment of a special court to deal with matters of human trafficking and sexual offences has come against a backdrop of a raging public debate on the issue in light of the topic being raised in the Parliament recently.
According to Minister Hinds, Chief Justice Ivor Archie put this process in motion when he issued a “Practice Direction” via the Trinidad and Tobago Gazette on January 23, 2023.
This move essentially puts in train a process that will prioritise all trafficking in persons and sexual offence cases for handling by a special court within the Criminal Division of the High Court.
Already, according to Minister Hinds, the Judiciary has identified judges and magistrates for the court, the ultimate goal supposedly being to ensure cases of this nature are fast-tracked once the process gets going.
It is worrying, however, that the matter is seemingly being given high priority following Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s claim that a 2022 US Trafficking in Persons report referenced the alleged involvement of an Opposition parliamentarian in human trafficking activity.
Truth be told, human trafficking, especially of Venezuelan nationals, is nothing new to T&T and has been one of the worst-kept secrets of our society.
Allowed to blossom without any intervention from law enforcement for decades, however, Minister Hinds now has to admit it is a problem which has the propensity to affect T&T’s future diplomatic relationship with the United States should it not be properly addressed.
Furthermore, the mudslinging between politicians on both sides of the divide on the issue has brought to the fore the fact that the issues highlighted in the US report were already on the radars of both administrations long before it was generated. Yet, here we are still bickering about what should have been done and what needs to be done, giving citizens no real hope that ultimately, decisive action will come at some stage to protect the women and children who find themselves victims of this inhumane act.
Minister Hinds would also be aware that the court system is but part of the chain in an integrated process involving other areas of law enforcement. One link is the T&T Police Service and its ability to investigate, prosecute and convict the perpetrators of these acts.
Human trafficking is also one aspect of transnational criminal activity connected to other areas, including drug and gun smuggling. Unfortunately, due to rogue elements within law enforcement, the human traffickers are able to forge links which enable them to operate with impunity in many instances.
It will, therefore, take much more than a special court to eradicate the problem if, of course, the Government is genuinely serious about doing so.
Needless to say, we hope that this project is not a fanciful gesture to appease the public’s current anger. Citizens have been promised such mechanisms in the past, a la the Night Court experiment, only for them to die unnatural deaths as they failed to make any real impact in the dispensation of justice.
As such, we hope both Minister Hinds and Chief Justice Archie have developed a plan to take us to a better place on this matter.