Hours before the emergency convening of Parliament this afternoon, Government coalition partner, the Congress of the People (COP), has issued a statement expressing alarm over the proclamation of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice Act (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011, which allows UNC financiers Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson to walk free on all criminal charges.
The COP today issued a statement, calling for the termination of all who acted with intentional dishonesty in relation to the "contempt of Parliament" to "not be allowed any function on behalf of the government of Trinidad and Tobago".
The press statement, signed by party chairman Joseph Toney is titled "The Saga of s34 – Blunders or Manipulation of Parliament" and gives a timeline of how President Max Richards came to proclaim the provision on the day of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the nation's Independence (August 30), which led to the subsequent application in the High Court by Galbaransingh and Ferguson to have their matters discharged and to be declared not guilty. The men are charged with multiple offences of fraud and money laundering in relation to the Piarco Airport Terminal project.
Yesterday, several other defendants charged in connection with the project, also filed similar petition in the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain.
The defendants are relying on the proclaimed section of the Act which compels a judge to discharge cases if more than ten years have elapsed since the commission of the alleged offence and if the trial has not started.
The COP stated that the revelations " have raised the grave questions about the bona fides of the government or parts of it in this entire affair. This situation is cause for the most serious concern and alarm".
The COP stated that having examined the developments in the passage of the Act, it is "forced to conclude that in the course of its passage, section 34 has been so changed by amendment first proposed in the Senate the whole intent of the original section 34 in the Bill was annihilated.
"The effect of that amendment was that it made a non-sense of the entire legal position on indictable offences (the most serious offences) because a time limitation for prosecution for such offences was now introduced. No longer could someone be prosecuted for such an offence no matter how long after its commission sufficient evidence was obtained.
"The very cleverly-worded amended sub-section 2 and added sub-section 3 also eliminated the original intention of section 34 which was to guarantee fairness to an accused person against unwarranted delay by the state. These in themselves made nonsense of the section" the COP stated.
"The amendment, in the manner in which it was introduced and in the form of its drafting closely resembling the original language in the Bill as it left the Lower House and entered Parliament took advantage of the trust of all legislators by those who introduced it, which allowed its passage".
The COP also stated that the proclamation of section 34 also meant a breach of an undertaking to Parliament on behalf of government, that no part of the Act would be made effective until the required rules and infrastructure for the operation of the new criminal process, were all in place.
The COP stated that the breach demonstrated "the most grievous contempt of the Parliament itself" and "compromises the entire purpose of the Act which was to ensure swift justice as part of measures to improve the justice system and contribute to the fight against the horrendous crime situation affecting our society".
The House of Representatives convenes at 1.30p.m for the purpose of repealing the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act.
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley is insisting that Cabinet members explain why they agreed to have Section 34 of the Act proclaimed.
N.B - Readers can return to this story throughout the day for updates.