Monday, December 18, 2017

Making sacrifices to solve crimes

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Mark Fraser

In Trinidad and Tobago, the reality of unstoppable and murderous crime will likely persuade citizens of the urgent need for even invasive legislation in order to lend a helping hand to law enforcement. Thus, a certain urgency has been attached to the passage of measures such as that requiring deportees to provide DNA samples towards the creation of an investigators’ database.

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan was accordingly pushing against an open door earlier this week when he urged passage of the Administration of Justice Bill in the House of Representatives. To the criticism that the DNA sample provision implied an unwarrantable over-reach by the State, Mr Ramlogan replied that a larger DNA database would facilitate police in solving and detecting crimes.

The Opposition PNM suggested that only criminal deportees should submit to this DNA sampling, in response to which the AG noted that some “persons of interest” escape a guilty verdict only because of a legal technicality. In this context, T&T faces a situation wherein the right to privacy of the person accordingly carries a priority lower than the overarching necessity of effectively enforcing law—ironically, even as the Government introduced another bill designed to ensure that politicians’ and other State officials’ e-mails cannot be used to expose possible wrong-doing.

In this context, a related measure, which would require fingerprinting of Caricom visitors, appears to be a unilateral undertaking without notice to or consultation with regional governments whose citizens stand to be affected at T&T’s ports of entry. Only last Tuesday, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, was in T&T to deliver a public lecture in which he warned Caricom officials that they may be flouting laws enshrined in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which the Caribbean Court of Justice is prepared to enforce even—or especially—in the face of contrary domestic legislation.

Moreover, even if this law helps to convict deportees who engage in criminal conduct within T&T’s jurisdiction, that is no guarantee that crime will be reduced by more than an iota. While there is an argument that it is these deportees who have come back and masterminded criminal gangs, no reliable research has demonstrated this to be the case. It is, however, unlikely that persons living for years in foreign climes could come back here and establish or take over neighbourhood criminal networks which necessarily rely on trust between persons well known to one another.

But, whatever the background, this war can only be won through sacrifice. What will justify such constitutional concessions are clear signs that the authorities, additionally enabled with DNA and fingerprint intelligence, are advancing beyond the currently abysmal performance in crime detection.