Was there a sleight of hand on the part of Government?
Two strongly worded statements—one from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Roger Gaspard, and another from the Congress of the People (COP), hit hard at the actions of the Government yesterday, suggesting it withheld critical information from the DPP and the Parliament, respectively, as it sought feedback and support on the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act.
In a release headlined "Blunder or manipulation of Parliament", Government's coalition partner, the Congress of the People, distanced itself—and apparently ministers who are aligned to the COP—from what had transpired as result of the proclamation of Section 34 of the Act.
Reflecting a lack of confidence in the bona fides of its senior partner, the COP accused the Government or "of parts of it" of "a grievous contempt of Parliament". It added that the manner in which the amendment was introduced, suggested that Government "took advantage of the trust of all legislators" who passed the measure.
Significantly, COP leader Prakash Ramadhar is chairman of the Legislative Review Committee of the Cabinet.
The party also said the proclamation of that very section violated a commitment given to Parliament that no part of the Act would be made effective until the required rules (which would have had to go back to Parliament) and infrastructure for the operation of the new criminal process, were all in place."
Meanwhile the DPP, asserting the independence of and upholding the integrity of his office, issued a statement moving in the same direction. The statement suggested a lack of openness in dealing with his office.
Gaspard, in a strong and elegantly worded press release, raised questions about the early proclamation of "one substantive" clause—Section 34. "On Independence Day, Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011 was brought into force. Curiously," noted Gaspard, "no other substantive provision of this Act has been brought into force even though the declared legislative thrust of this Act is the abolition of preliminary enquiries. Section 34 (1) cannot stand on its own without absurdity, while 34 (2) and 34 (3) have nothing to do with any such abolition."
The DPP very significantly states that he was not consulted on the controversial clause.
"I was initially consulted about the Act as a bill in March 2011. I commented in detail by letter dated May 6, 2011, and forwarded same to the Hon Mr Herbert Volney, Minister of Justice. I could not comment on Section 34 or Schedule 6 as now contained in the Act because they were not in the draft bill kindly sent to me by the Minister of Justice. I had never been asked to comment on the significance of Section 34 (2) and 34 (3) prior to the Bill being introduced into the Parliament... on November 11, 2011", he said.
The DPP noted that the effect of Section 34 (2) and 34 (3) were of such effect that any matter involving offences committed over ten years ago cannot be tried unless they are named as exceptions in Schedule 6. The cases involving proceedings in the Piarco scandal are not those offences which are excluded from the schedule and therefore they qualified for being thrown out.
"These cases involve allegations of a conspiracy to defraud the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago of over TT$1 billion by the fraudulent use of bonds and the rigging of the contracts for the various Construction packages for the Piarco Airport Project," Gaspard stated.
Gaspard stated that the offences in Schedule 6 (which are exempt from the ten year statutory bar) appeared to have been selected by category rather than gravity. The offences do not include for example sedition, terrorism, piracy, money laundering or offences under the Larceny and Forgery Acts.
Very interestingly, Gaspard stressed: "May I hasten to add that I consulted with legal luminaries, based both at home and abroad, and they have not been able to point me in the direction of any legislation that could be considered to be a sibling or parallel with Section 34 (2) and 34 (3) of the Act, in the entire Commonwealth".
Gaspard said the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act received the assent of the President on December 16, 2011. "Instructively," Gaspard pointed out, (three days later) on December 19, 2011, the Attorney General Anand Ramlogan announced his decision not to appeal the judgment of Hon Justice Boodoosingh that the decision to return Galbaransingh and Ferguson, was unjust and oppressive. "Doubtless, when he announced that decision, the Attorney General must have had in mind the provisions of Section 34".