Let's be clear about three things: The now infamous Section 34 became an issue primarily because of the acts and omissions of the Government. The Government get ketch. They shoulda get ketch before but the Opposition failed to be vigilant.
As every one knows by now, the Government enacted legislation which introduced limitation periods beyond which criminal cases could not proceed; but it excepted certain serious cases listed in Schedule 6 to the Act from being subject to the new limitation periods.
The crimes selected to be exceptions from the limitation periods were limited to treason, serious offences against the person, for example murder, kidnapping and rape, drug trafficking and firearms offences. Not a single white-collar crime was excepted from the limitation periods.
The failure to except crimes such as money laundering, corruption and Integrity Act offences is astounding. It is difficult to believe that these high profile crimes could be forgotten. As I said last week, every serious country in the world is obliged to be intensely focused on money laundering. It is the flavour of the century as far as white-collar crime is concerned.
The key to the Government's primary responsibility for the Section 34 fiasco (as the storm over the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 20 11) has become known) is the wholly inadequate selection of cases to be excepted from the limitation periods contained in Sections 34 and 27 of the Act. If a proper and competently drawn list of crimes to be excepted from those sections had been put into the legislation, no controversy would have arisen concerning the cases known as Piarco 1 and Piarco 2.
The Government was the promoter of the legislation and must therefore take full responsibility for the back-door introduction of limitation periods and for the omissions from Schedule 6. All of the proverbial kicksin' in Parliament in the debate over the repeal of Section 34 did not obscure this major failure. The Attorney General now says that the Government wants a "separate frontal debate" on limitation periods for criminal cases. Why use the back door in the first place and end up with a full frontal failure?
The Attorney General has also acknowledged that Senator Prescott SC referred to the critical omissions when the legislation was first debated. Why did the Government and Opposition fail to heed him? Nevertheless the selection of the offences to be excepted from Schedule 6 was exclusively the Government's call. It must explain why it made that call and ignored Prescott's intervention regarding white-collar crimes, whatever the Opposition thought it was doing.
The Government must also explain the early proclamation of Section 34 and the omissions from Schedule 6 at a time when it was being represented that the Piarco cases would proceed to trial. The credibility of those representations is gravely undermined by the decision to produce and proclaim legislation inconsistent with those representations. Without those two explanations at least, along with an account of precisely who made and who knew of the relevant decisions, we have a potential cover-up of the Watergate character, hence my referring on Wednesday last to this Section 34 fiasco as Justicegate.
The PNM too must explain how it missed the omissions from Schedule 6 and the full import of Section 34? Whether the Act was proclaimed now, or at a much later date as it was led to believe, the fundamental problem remains the same.
The fiasco is a graphic illustration of the inadequacies of our Parliament. The focus of party members is wrong. Mauvaise langue and insult are their priorities. They fail to understand that they are legislators making laws for good governance of Trinidad and Tobago. That is what they are there to do. We are entitled to have competence before clowning.
The Parliament is badly run by the leaders of Government business, who order the business so that legislation is rushed without adequate time for study or opportunity for wider comment.
Next, there are the ridiculous hours of sitting. Who can productively look at legislation for 12 and 14 hours in one sitting and at 2 and 3 a.m.? It is easy to slip in an atrocious section or two in those sleepy hours of sitting. Moreover, how can the media and the public properly follow proceedings of such length and at those hours? The peoples' business is being trifled with and the world is watching. Our international reputation becomes more sullied by the month. A reputation for wonky justice is one of the gravest demerits a country can earn. Both sides making we shame.
Accompanied by a barrage of specious reasons, Section 34 has now been repealed. There is considerable doubt whether this is the end of the problem of automatic discharge on account of a ten-year delay. The Government claimed it was acting out of an abundance of caution. As I said on Wednesday last, I see an abundance of failure.