Congress of the People chairman Joseph Toney yesterday said the advancement of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act by Cabinet "smells rather smelly".
"Nobody seems to know on what basis Section 34 was singled out for proclamation. Perhaps we ought to find out," he said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Toney said he was attempting to "remove the veil of secrecy" from the proclamation.
"There must be some sort of explanation as to why this happened," Toney said.
"The Ministers who, by their conduct, brought the Government on this path ought not to hold further Government office," he said.
Toney said he would only make a final statement after the debate and after the COP's national executive meeting which is expected to follow.
"Maybe there was good reason, but so far I have not heard anything to indicate that there was," Toney said yesterday just after both presentations by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley in Parliament.
Legal Affairs Minister and leader of the COP, Prakash Ramadhar, was a part of the original debate on the issue last year, but Toney said he did not have a chance to speak with him "at length" on his part in passing of the legislation.
"I had a brief conversation with him and I expressed my concern," Toney said, adding that the legislation earned unanimous votes in both the Lower and Upper House when it was passed last year.
In a release yesterday, Toney said the entire issue "raised the grave questions about the bona fides of the government or parts of it in this entire affair".
Toney said the COP was "not comforted that the mere repeal of the section whose initial noble intent has been destroyed will remedy the situation".
Following is the full text of the COP statement titled "The Saga of s34— Blunders or Manipulation of Parliament":-
The Proclamation by the President on the day of the Jubilee Anniversary of the Independence of Trinidad and Tobago and the subsequent application to a High Court Judge by Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson to have criminal proceedings against them brought to a halt have raised the grave questions about the bona fides of the government or parts of it in this entire affair.
This situation is cause for the most serious concern and alarm. The Congress of the People having examined the developments in the passage of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act, 2011 is forced to conclude that in the course of its passage, section 34 has been so changed by the amendment first proposed in the Senate the whole intent of the original section 34 in the Bill was annihilated.
The effect of that amendment was that it made a nonsense of the entire legal position on indictable offences (the most serious offences) because a time limitation for prosecution for such offences was now introduced. No longer could someone be prosecuted for such an offence no matter how long after its commission if sufficient evidence was obtained.
The very cleverly-worded amended sub-section 2 and added sub-section 3 also eliminated the original intention of section 34 which was to guarantee fairness to an accused person against unwarranted delay by the state.
These in themselves made nonsense of the section.
The amendment, in the manner in which it was introduced and in the form of its drafting closely resembling the original language in the Bill as it left the Lower House and entered Parliament took advantage of the trust of all legislators by those who introduced it, which allowed its passage.
Further, the initiation of the Proclamation of that very section in that form also spelt the breach of an undertaking to Parliament on behalf of Government that no part of the Act would be made effective until the required Rules (which would have had to go back to Parliament) and infrastructure for the operation of the new criminal process were all in place.
This breach has two effects: 1) It demonstrates the most grievous contempt of the Parliament itself and 2) it compromises the entire purpose of the Act which was to ensure swift justice as part of measures to improve the justice system and contribute to the fight against the horrendous crime situation affecting our society.
The fact is that the only development since that Proclamation has been the attempt by those accused of the most serious crimes against the society in relation to the Airport fraud have applied to stop their prosecution.
The Congress of the People is not comforted that the mere repeal of the section whose initial noble intent has been destroyed will remedy the situation.
The Congress of the People therefore calls for the following:
1. That the repeal must be done in such a way as to eliminate the attempt to utilise the section, whether by retroactive effect or other legislative means
2. That the Government, or anyone acting on its behalf, do nothing to prevent any future attempt to have those indicted in the US in relation to the Airport matters extradited to face the charges there.
3. That no amendments to Bills be introduced in the Parliament by Government on the floor and without express prior consideration thereof by the appropriate governmental body.
4. That any person found to have acted with mala fides in these developments be not allowed any function on behalf of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
• See supporting explanation by the COP on "how this developed in and out of Parliament" on Page 16.