Don't blame UK court for delays
The statement of the acting AG Dr Roodal Moonilal that ceding criminal appeals from the Privy Council to the CCJ is "also a measure designed to address crime" and "so that (T&T) can quickly dispense with certain matters before the court", is one of the most extraordinary statements since the PM's announcement on the matter.
All who have heard and support this statement I urge to stop and reflect on whether this could possibly be accurate in light of the state of the criminal justice system. As a criminal lawyer I would commend several matters to Dr Moonilal's attention.
Firstly, when a person is charged with a criminal offence and kept in police custody and/or then remanded into custody, legal aid is not granted immediately, indeed some wait quite some time. This is at the beginning of the process, but even when legal aid is granted the pay rate is so appalling that often very junior lawyers take on quite serious cases. Even then these cases are not seen as financially viable and are often passed on to at least several lawyers before the matter has an effective hearing in court. For a murder case, where the death penalty can result, this cannot be right. No lawyer can or should take on that heavy burden for a minimal fee.
Secondly, most cases, once they enter the Magistrates' Court, tend to limp through the system. Indictable-only cases (of which murder is one) are probably the worst, with committals taking years to complete, with lengthy adjournments to accommodate police, civilians' and lawyers' availability. Very often witnesses don't turn up or the police fail to liaise with them or they die. Even if the committal is completed it takes another separate period of delay to get an effective hearing date for trial in the High Court Assizes where the same problems continue.
Thirdly, the system, despite pleas by the public and judicial officers over the years to substantially increase the number of magistrates and judges and build new criminal courts, successive governments have simply not delivered, certainly not on the scale required. If cost was the problem in my view there was an easy solution, specifically the creation of deputy magistrates and deputy High Court judges who sit part-time. They could sit for less pay than their full-time counterparts to hear the less serious matters.
Fourthly, when the legal profession was fused in 1986 the specialist criminal bar was virtually destroyed. This political initiative led in 1985 and implemented in 1987 created a new rank of attorney undertaking the work of both solicitors and barristers. In a relatively short time what was a vibrant profession of legal specialists was undermined, with attorneys ever since undertaking most types of work whether they specialised or not.
Attorneys are not to be criticised for this as this was a natural consequence of fusion and to do otherwise could translate to a commitment to an unsuccessful practice.
What this means for the defendant is that unless he is fortunate in his choice of counsel he may end up with a lawyer who has never done a serious criminal case before.
As can be seen, the delay in the criminal justice system is the greatest problem the system in T&T faces, but this has nothing to do with the Privy Council. Indeed when an appeal is filed and if leave is granted by the Privy Council for a criminal appeal, a hearing could take place within weeks if expedition is requested, or in the normal time within months. A decision usually follows weeks or months thereafter. This efficiency in listing cases is a matter carefully monitored by the Registry of the Privy Council and should be followed by the local courts in T&T, but sadly this is not the case.
If the argument for the CCJ is that it will speed up the criminal process it is impossible to see how as the real delay is in the local court system not at the Privy Council level.
The public needs to know this to take their parliamentary representatives to task on these matters and Dr Moonilal would do well to remember this before making any similar statements in the future.