lend me your ear: Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan, left, speaks to Justice Minister Herbert Volney during yesterday's post-Cabinet news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair Avenue, St Clair. —Photo: MICHEAL BRUCE

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PARDON FOR 50

Volney: Criminals to be freed for T&T's Independence anniversary

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

Fifty criminals are to be pardoned for the country's 50th Independence anniversary.

This announcement was made yesterday by Justice Minister Herbert Volney, who said in commemoration of the country's 50th anniversary of independence, Govern- ment is to recommend to President George Maxwell Richards that he pardons 50 criminals, who would become free people.

He was speaking at the post-Cabinet news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair.

"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)," he said.

Asked whether these persons had committed murder or other types of crimes, Volney said they were "worthy candidates, people who have spent all their lives in prison. It is on the recommendation of the Commissioner of Prisons, and it would be dealt with by the Mercy Committee, making the recommendation to the President".

He however assured that "we won't jeopardise public safety by releasing any dangerous person on the public".

The last presidential pardon was issued in May 2012 to Godson Neptune, 83, a graduate of the University of Caracas in Venezuela, who had chopped his wife to death in 1985. Neptune's defence was that he thought his wife was a snake. He later stated he was in an "alcohol intolerance condition" which caused him to do the most outrageous and dangerous things.

The notion and mechanism for pardoning persons exists in the Constitution. The Mercy Committee receives applications and considers the merits and justification of the applications and makes a recommendation to the President, who has the power under the Constitution to pardon anyone who commits and is convicted of a crime.

The committee is chaired by the National Security Minister and includes in its membership the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Justice Minister.

Such a large number of persons has never been pardoned in one go although the Mercy Committee has, over the years, consistently met and made recommendations.

Volney said as the country commemorated 50 years of independence, there was a lot to be thankful for and to celebrate.

Contacted yesterday for comment, Prisons Commissioner Martin Martinez said he knew of the move to free the prisoners but did not wish to say anything further.

Volney also announced that his ministry was hosting the North Atlantic Commonwealth Law Ministers conference at the Hilton Trinidad hotel next Monday and Tuesday. He said the historic conference was commemorative of all that has taken place over the last 50 years in criminal justice in the country.

It would also serve to bring together law delegates from the Caricom region, as well as experts from different parts of the world, particularly, the Commonwealth, who would share the experiences of their respective countries since leaving the yoke of colonialism.

Delegates from New Zealand, India, the United Kingdom and Canada, Caricom, as well as local attorneys such as Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal and Gilbert Peterson, will address the conference. "We would be taking a snapshot of where we were in 1962 and the problems we inherited in terms of criminal justice administration at that time and the problems that have developed since then," Volney said.

He added there would be some bragging rights for the initiatives taken by the Justice Ministry, such as the Electronic Monitoring Bill and the legislation to reform pretrial procedures such as the Preliminary Enquiry Act and the attack on the backlog on trials.

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