Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said yesterday the case of the rats eating the cocaine or of money disappearing while in police custody should be a thing of the past when the Indictable Offences (Committal Proceedings) Bill is in effect.
The bill, which he piloted in the House of Representatives yesterday, seeks to repeal the Indictable Offences Bill and the Preliminary Enquiry Act of 2011, which contained the controversial Section 34 clause, which was repealed by special legislation.
The Attorney General said the bill would provide for exhibits to be kept by a designated agency other than the police station (where exhibits are normally kept).
He said there have been instances in the past where rats “ate” cocaine, or where the weight at seizure was at variance with the weight of drugs at the trial.
The AG said there were also cases where hard drugs seized “evaporated’ by the time of the trial.
He said a magistrate would be empowered to say that money should be held by the Central Bank or drug exhibits held at the Forensic Science Centre.
Speaking about the move to abolish preliminary enquiries, the Attorney General said the Preliminary Enquiry Act had been in operation in this country since 1917.
“Its abolition is therefore historic,” he said.
Ramlogan said under the new system the witness statements tendered by the prosecution would replace the evidence-in-chief. The magistrate would form a conclusion based on the witness statements.
“What was needed is an efficient, effective and expeditious system of criminal justice. It allows those who are innocent to be freed in a quick time and it allows the State to prosecute quickly those who are guilty of infractions of the criminal code,” Ramlogan said.
He said the reality was the rate of acquittal at the level of the preliminary enquiry, when an accused person is discharged, is very low.
“It is the exception rather than the norm. ... The evidential threshold for determining whether there is a prima facie case is made out is quite low. Many cases that could have been advanced to a trial in a quicker time-frame are stuck and mired at the stage of the preliminary enquiry and it doesn’t serve either party.”
The AG said judicial time and resources must be deployed in a more effective and efficient way.
“Given the backlog that exists, there is a need to augment the infrastructure in the judiciary. Yes, we need more courts, more judges, more magistrates, but that alone would not solve the problem. There is a deep-seated problem of how criminal justice is administered.
“The abolition of preliminary enquiries is one dynamite that you can light that would move the logjam that exists, without investment of additional resources by the State but by eliminating a procedural step that does not add to the fairness of the trial process,” he added.
The Attorney General paid tribute to the late Dana Seetahal, who contributed to the legislation.