The Opposition is in shock over the developments involving businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson.
Both men, who have pending cases arising out of their alleged involvement in the Piarco corruption scandal, have benefitted from the "early" proclamation of certain sections of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act. One of the sections imposes a ten-year statutory limit for cases, stating that the Judge must discharge an accused and record a verdict of not guilty if the offence is alleged to have been committed on a date that is ten years or more before the date of application.
Asked whether the Opposition, which voted for the measure in the Parliament last year, was sleeping on the job, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said: "No, not at all!" Rowley said he had called an urgent press conference at 10 this morning to address the issue comprehensively and would say more today. But he said: "This much I can tell you: The Opposition is in shock at these developments."
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan in a statement on Sunday pointed that the Act was unanimously passed by both Government and Opposition and that the Parliament does not legislate based on personalities. But Opposition spokesmen said yesterday that the August 30 proclamation was deliberately timed to facilitate the two UNC financiers.
One legal commentator stated that the "irresistable conclusion" was that the proclamation was deliberately done to favour the discharge of the Galbaransingh and Ferguson cases emanating from the Piarco corruption scandal of 2001.
Speaking with the Express yesterday, attorney at law Dana Seetahal explained that five sections of the Act were proclaimed on August 30, while the other 30 sections of the Act would be proclaimed on January 2, 2013.
Out of the five sections which have been proclaimed, "four of them are not important..and are merely descriptive", she noted. (They are Section 1,2,3,32 which deal with matters such as what the act is to named or "cited as"). However Section 34 which address the issue of discharging a matter on the grounds of delay, is the one " substantive" section which was proclaimed on August 30.
Asked whether this was strange, Seetahal said: "It is strange to have effectively one substantive section alone (proclaimed), when there is no reason for it." Recalling that some parts of the Municipal Corporations Act had been proclaimed before others, she noted that it was whole parts of the act and not little sections and that there was some logic to it. "Whereas in this case there seems to be no reason or rhyme (for it)," she said, adding: " it is not clear why that particular section- the statutory limitation section- was pulled out (and proclaimed prior to the remainder of the act)".
Noting that indictable offences "usually" had a longer statutory limitation period, Seetahal also questioned why the issue of placing a statutory limitation on summary (and not just indictable) cases, was not addressed "if the concern was to ease the backlog (of cases).
Excluded from the statutory limitation are violent crimes such as rape and murder. But yesterday legal experts questioned about why "high-level crimes" such as money-laundering, proceeds of crime, were also exempted from the ten-year time bar.
Questioned on this, Seetahal said it appeared from the parliamentary debate that the legislators were talking more about exempting offences against the persons. "But," she added: "if it was so how come they exempted drug-trafficking, which is not a crime against the person was well as treason and possession of arms. But then again (crimes against the persons such as) arson, administering poison and none of the larcency offences, are exempted. So I don't understand the logic here. And why isn't terrorism (a blood crime) there? So those are questions that are begged," she said.
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