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...Imbert: A draconian change

By Anna Ramdass anna.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com

Why was Government moving to increase the penalty against the media for publishing details of what takes place in a preliminary enquiry?

Opposition MP Colm Imbert questioned yesterday in his contribution to the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Bill, 2011, which was debated at the Parliament sitting at Tower D, at the Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.

"I am not a fan of the media... I don't think they like me too much either, but the fact is I would like to know why are you moving the fine for publication of what has taken place in a preliminary enquiry from a fine of $2,000 or to imprisonment to four months, to a fine of $250,000 and imprisonment for five years. This is a draconian change, Mr Speaker," said Imbert. He called on Justice Minister Herbert Volney who piloted the Bill to explain this measure.

"That seems to be the kind of penalty for trafficking narcotics or it comes out of the Integrity in Public Life legislation, $250,000 and five years' jail if you dare to publish the proceedings of a sufficiency enquiry other than the name and address of the person. I think the Minister, you should explain to us because there are protocols and there are formulae with respect to penalties, with respect to the severity of the offence," said Imbert.

Imbert further raised concerns that under this Act, that cross-examination will be no more and, instead, written statements and oral submissions will be submitted by attorneys.

"What we are effectively doing is creating a paper committal system that removes the right to cross-examination of witnesses at the committal stage," said Imbert.

He said the old system, which dates back 180 years, took into consideration that a person could be "set up" and therefore there was the provision for cross-examination both on the prosecution and defence sides.

While Imbert expressed his concerns over the Bill tabled by Volney, he reminded the House that it was the People's National Movement that first moved to have preliminary enquiries abolished under former attorney general John Jeremie.

He said a draft Bill was sent to a committee of judges for deliberation.

Imbert said the Opposition will not oppose Volney's Bill, but have reservations on some of its clauses that he hoped the Minister will take into consideration.

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