Sunday, December 17, 2017

Justice Minister: It was all a dream

Volney's plan to free 50 prisoners


"lofty dreams": Justice Minister Christlyn Moore during yesterday's post-Cabinet news briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair. —Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

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IT was all a dream.

That is how Minister of Justice Christlyn Moore described the decision taken by her predecessor, Herbert Volney, to free 50 prisoners for Trinidad and Tobago's 50th anniversary of Independence last August.

In a telephone interview with the Express on Wednesday, Moore said the notion to release 50 inmates early was not official Government policy and was something that "the minister was trying to do in his wisdom".

On June 21 last year, Volney, who was sacked as Justice Minister on September 20, announced: "The Government is going to announce in the fullness of time, the pardon of 50 persons to commemorate the country's 50th anniversary of Independence."

Asked about the status of the releases, Moore said it was a dream of Volney to release the prisoners. She said not all the applicants "have found favour with the Mercy Committee".

When asked how many would have found favour with the committee, Moore said that was not something the committee would put out.

Asked specifically if the entire thing was scrapped, she replied: "I'm not entirely sure there was a thing. The minister had a dream, the minister is no longer here. You would have to ask the minister about his dream and how he intended to bring it about."

"That was the minister's dream and you would have to ask him how that dream was supposed to have worked. He is in the best place to comment on that dream," said Moore, adding that freeing 50 prisoners is not her dream.

Contacted yesterday, Volney said 17 people were approved by the Mercy Committee following three meetings and he would have sent ten of those approved to the President for him to grant the pardons, before he was forced out of office.

"It was discussed by the Prime Minister (Kamla Persad-Bissessar) and the Attorney General (Anand Ramlogan). As far as I am concerned the matter went to Cabinet. The Minister (Moore) has a lot to learn still."

Volney said the freeing of the prisoners should continue as the prisoners had a legitimate expectation that they would be considered as part of the 50th year promise of the Government. He added that it would be cruel of the new Minister not to continue.

"The Minister should in no way get in the way of a directive given by the Government... A person who does not carry out a Cabinet decision can either be reprimanded or dismissed," said Volney.

But Commissioner of Prisons Martin Martinez said as far as he was aware the matter had been shelved.

"I have no information about any early release with respect to Independence of any prisoner," Martinez said.

The requisites for the early release of prisoners were: first-time offenders with exemplary conduct; non-violent offenders; prisoners unlikely to re-offend; people committing minor offences with sentences of less than four years; prisoners who are chronically ill, old/infirm, near their remission date; prisoners who have undergone rehabilitation; prisoners with supportive families; and prisoners whose release would not cause a public outcry.

At yesterday's post-Cabinet news conference, Moore said she knew that former minister Volney "had high hopes and lofty dreams" of the pardon of 50 prisoners. However, she said Volney's statements presumed 1) that there were 50 applicants; 2) that no matter how many applicants there were, 50 prisoners would be found deserving by a Mercy Committee, which under the Constitution is an independent body.

"Those presumptions (made by Volney), though laudible, may well have been erroneous," she said.