UPDATE - Government To Repeal Indictable Proceedings Act
THE Government announced today that steps were being taken to convene the House of Representatives tomorrow for the purpose of repealing Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings Act 2011).
One section of the Act that has been proclaimed imposes a ten-year statutory limit for cases.
As a result, a 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.
Businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson, who have pending cases linked to their alleged involvement in the Piarco Airport corruption scandal, have used the early proclamation to file petitions in court.
On Monday, the men filed actions in the Port of Spain High Court, seeking a judge's order that, based on the Section 34 of the Act, their corruption charges to be discharged and not guilty verdicts be recorded in their favour.
The development has triggered a response from the Unites States.
Shortly before noon today, the US Embassy in Port of Spain issued a statement expressing concern over reports that the corruption case against the businessmen may be dropped.
According to the statement "The two (Galbaransingh and Ferguson) were first indicted in 2005 in a Miami Federal Court on numerous fraud and money laundering charges stemming from alleged bid rigging between 1996 and
2005 on contracts for the Piarco International Airport. The United States continues to seek their extradition despite the ruling last year by the Trinidad and Tobago High Court. They remain under indictment in the United States".
In November 2011, Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh ruled against extraditing the two men, and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan
declined to appeal the ruling.
The US Embassy stated : "Mr. Galbaransingh and Mr. Ferguson are accused of committing fraud involving millions of dollars. It would be highly disappointing if, after years of investigation, their case was not brought to trial".
The Opposition People’s National Movement, which supported passage of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Bill 2011, also reacted today, claiming that the Act was "secretly and partly proclaimed".
The party stated that the development had the potential to damage the
relationship with Trinidad and Tobago and the United States, and demanded that Parliament be convened with 48 hours, or party members would protest outside the Office of the Prime Minister.
The PNM stated that when the Bill was debated in Parliament, the impact of the Act on Piarco airport fraud cases, was raised by the PNM.
"The Parliament received assurances from the Minister who piloted the Bill that the Act would not be proclaimed until the necessary infrastructure to administer the legislation was put in place. Additional Masters of the Court had to be appointed. Criminal Procedure Rules had to be brought to Parliament to allow for the operation of the new system. The judiciary had to re organise itself to deal with the anticipated flood of applications. In short, Parliament and the people of this country were assured by the current Minister of Justice that no one could benefit from the legislation until these necessary infrastructural changes were put in place including passage of further legislation in Parliament".
The PNM stated: "It is therefore a cause for alarm to learn that the legislation was proclaimed and put into force, during the 50th Anniversary Independence celebrations, without prior warning, in the circumstance where the Preliminary Enquiry into the Airport charges is about to resume, thereby appearing to facilitate the making of an application to a judge by accused in the Piarco Airport scandal for an order to declare themselves not guilty. In other words, despite the absence of the promised infrastructure, the government has proceeded to make the Act law so that person may now claim the benefit of the Act. Without the proclamation, the accused in the Piarco matters would have to submit to a Preliminary Enquiry which could result in their trial before judge and jury.
The PNM added, "In the context of the growing disillusionment by everyone over the ability of the Constitution to deliver honest government, in the context of fear induced by crime and disappointment over the false promise of this government, the act of Proclaiming this legislation at this time, in breach of the Government assurances to the Parliament, will be perceived as evidence of the power and influence of corrupt individuals over this Government and further undermine respect for the rule of law.
"The actions of this Government also have the potential to damage the relationship between the United States and this Country. The PNM is positive that the Government would have given assurances to the United States that the persons whose extraditions were sought would be subject to prosecution before our courts. To give effect to a domestic law subsequent to the assurance which has the effect of assuring the dismissal of the charges would undermine this assurance.
"It is also of concern that the Attorney General did not put before Justice Boodoosingh the fact that his Government intended to give effect to legislation that could have had the effect of preventing the trial of the accused. We are therefore left concerned that this information could have been considered by the Judge. Further, had the Attorney General appealed the decision, it is a matter that could have been considered by the Court of Appeal or at least prevented the proclamation of the Act while the Appeal was pending".
The PNM has called for the resignation of Attorney General Ramlogan and Justice Minister Herbert Volney.