President George Maxwell Richards yesterday signed the Proclamation Order repealing Section 34. He had proclaimed that clause just two weeks ago—on August 30.
But following an emergency sitting of Parliament on Wednesday (for the House of Representatives) and Thursday (the Senate) Richards proclaimed the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Amendment Act 2012 yesterday morning potentially bringing an end to the chances of businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson and others to have their cases dismissed under the now defunct Section 34.
The controversial Section 34 would have allowed persons to have their cases thrown out ten years after the commission of the offence, once no trial had begun. It created an outcry, however, when Galbaransingh and Ferguson became the first two persons to apply to be discharged soon after it was proclaimed.
Though much of the focus had been on the two UNC financiers, others who qualified to benefit from Section 34 included former prime minister Basdeo Panday, his wife Oma Panday and former ministers Brian Kuei, Russell Huggins and Carlos John—and all others were charged in relation to the Piarco Construction Project.
Asked where the government was going from here, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said yesterday due process could now take its course. However, he said Government was not proposing further amendments to this Act.
Ramlogan said he did not like the fact that an act to abolish preliminary enquiries had sought to deal with the issue of a statutory limitation "through the back door".
Ramlogan added: "It (the issue of a statutory limitation) is not something Parliament should do through the back door in a law that was meant to abolish preliminary inquiries. This matter is sufficiently important and is such a radical change to the criminal justice system and criminal laws that it merits a discussion all on its own.
"There are strong reasons why it should be done—it is unfair for accused persons, deemed to be innocent to have to await trial for over a decade when it is no fault of their own. And that is particularly pressing when it involves poor people who make bail but couldn't get the bail and they remain in jail languishing while they await their trial. There is no justice in that."
On the other hand, Ramlogan said, "we would have to look at that issue—whether you want to impose statutory limits to the start of a trial and to allowing persons to walk free if that limit is not met. Because who is the Parliament to tell victims of crime that the perpetrator should walk free because we (the State) take too long to prosecute them? How does Parliament decide which offences should qualify for this statutory limitation?
"Should it (Parliament) decide on a pecking order of crimes which should be thrown out after a ten-year period and which crimes should not, especially without reference to the victims of offences?
"This may be unfair, since the victims need to have a voice. It requires full and frank discussion. The qualitative distinction in the moral code of ethics is a subject of much discussion. One has to tread with caution if we are going to say that the gravity of crime X is worse than the gravity of crime Y without reference to the victim".
Ramlogan said the bottom line was that the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act was to abolish preliminary enquiries and it was never to deal with any limitation period.
He said bringing it (statutory limitation issue) as a subsection in a law to address a different problem, explained why it was overlooked by the Parliament.
Ramlogan also said in the discussion and outcry generated by the early proclamation, many persons were missing the point that had Section 34 been proclaimed on January 2, the persons in question (Galbaransingh and Ferguson and others) would simply have made their application in January (instead of September) for their cases to be dismissed.