Minister of Justice Herbert Volney appeared to criticise the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Judiciary for their tardiness in dealing with the cases involving business executives Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson .
Volney, who expressed his unhappiness over the fact that the "uproar in the media" over "two persons" had caused Government to repeal Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act, was critical of "all those with the authority to prosecute" who failed to indict the two men prior to the proclamation of the controversial clause.
The clause would have allowed accused persons to escape prosecution if ten years had passed and no charge had been laid. The amendment which was proclaimed ahead of the majority of other sections of the Act is being used by the former UNC financiers who were accused of fraud arising out of the Piarco project.
Speaking at an emergency sitting of the House of Representatives on Wednesday night, Volney said he was thinking about the poor, (not of the two former UNC financiers,) when he introduced (late last year in the Senate) the controversial Section 34 amendment and when he agreed to proclaim that section (on August 30) ahead of the other provisions of the Act.
He said ever since the act was assented to there seemed to be one matter involving certain persons which seemed to be the focus of attention where there was a committal for trial as long ago as 2008.
Said Volney: "There is no indictment. Now is that justice being served? Could not that indictment have been filed and that trial been in progress? No. But we (the Government) get blamed on this side for everything.
"In the lower court, if the parties sat on a daily basis as they did in the prosecution of Prof (Vijay) Narayansingh and others, the system could have resulted in a committal or acquittal (of Ferguson and Galbaransingh) by this time, given the urgency of the measure, which was known not only to us in this Parliament, but to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and all those with the authority to proceed to prosecute.
"Nobody did (prosecute), although we (all) knew. But now this provision has kicked in, due to inaction, we have found ourselves in this situation where we are forced to react, not because the measure is wrong—because the poor man right now who is locked up for over ten years is a man who is going to suffer. Why? Because of the name of two persons and the outcry it has created. We are throwing the baby out with the bath water."
Volney added: "It is not that the Minister of Justice is in any conspiracy. Who are these people,? I don't legislate for these people, or for any personality. I bring legislation on the basis of legal principle and in keeping with international treaties that we accede to."
Earlier, Volney said the problem with the criminal justice system was that the poor were the ones who were languishing in the criminal justice system.
"They do not have the capacity to obtain bail even when (it is) granted. They do not have the capacity to pay big lawyers like Mr (Vernon) De Lima to stand up and fight for them. They are the forgotten one, the ones who would fall into the cracks of an unfair criminal justice system," he said.
"They are the ones I speak for, they are the ones I was thinking about when I brought Section 34," he said.
"There are so many thousands of cases awaiting trial that if we in this Parliament have to think about it, we will hold our heads and ask God Almighty to lend a hand," Volney stated.
The minister said the backlog of murder trials went into hundreds, as rape, wounding, manslaughter, firearms, kidnapping went into thousands. "How can we allow this when the accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty," he asked.
He said drastic action had to be taken. "And so a decision was made that all the old historic cases that are clogging up the system, where through no fault of the prisoner who is waiting while the State has not been able to prosecute, that they have the right, for once ... to apply to be released," Volney said.
Saying that after ten years an accused should know whether he is inside or out, Volney added: "We have to deal with the avalanche of all cases that would hit the system when it (the Act) was implemented and the only way to deal with that was to take the hard and morally right decision, to be strong and to lead and to shave off all the dead wood and old cases. That was the reason, the purport and intention of Section 34."