Thursday, September 13, 2012

Section 34 to be repealed retroactively; no one gets off the hook

PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar consults with some of her troops ahead of the debate
The government and the opposition sparred Wednesday over who should take blame for Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act with neither side accepting full responsibility.

When the bill was passed in the Parliament it got unanimous support, which means that all members present - including the opposition - voted in favour of it. That's the point Attorney General Anand Ramlogan made when he spoke. 

Ramlogan said it was the PNM, which is now distancing itself from the legislation, that proposed the seven-year provision in Clause 34 instead of 10 years. He said there was a motive for that. 

“Who were you trying to protect with that seven years—Calder Hart?” Ramlogan asked. He also said that time frame would have let off anyone connected with the Landate matter, which he said is not yet closed. 

Landate is a housing development that was the subject of an inquiry to determine if Rowley was involved in corrupt practices relating to the siphoning of material from the Scarborough Hospital construction site to a housing development (Landate) owned by Rowley's wife, Sharon.

Rowley has called for Ramlogan's resignation but the AG said the PNM leader has no moral authority to make such demands. He noted that there is precedent for Parliament to repeal a law since the Manning PNM administration did it to regularise the Uff Commission that was not gazetted.

Ramlogan also accused the PNM of dishonesty, saying that the government told the opposition at around 9 on Tuesday morning that the Parliament was being convened to deal with the section, yet the PNM called a media briefing to threaten to hold protests over the issue and demand the recall of Parliament. “Political gamesmanship from the Opposition leader. If blame is to be ascribed, blame must be ascribed to all, ” Ramlogan said.

He said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar  immediately decided at 7 am on Tuesday that Parliament must be convened and the section would be repealed because it was needed to “immunise the State” from legal challenge. Ramlogan added that after Section 34 became law, it was evident there was public “disquiet” on the matter and after concern was articulated, the Government showed it was prepared to listen.

He said he met with Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard and then with the Prime Minister. He said the DPP’s concerns “fell on fertile soil” and Government was prepared to act in the public interest.
The overall act is intended to end preliminary inquiries in the magistrate’s court. And Section 34 allows persons to apply for their cases to be thrown out and discharged if they had been pending for more than ten years and the trials had not started.

Ramlogan said the new amendments were meant to correct a “clear oversight by the entire Parliament” including Government, Opposition and Independents in failing “to appreciate the unintended consequence and implications of the one provision.” 

He added, “So the Parliament should man up, take responsibility for the oversight and say there’s a problem and we humbly apologise and say we should correct it."
The AG said the Government would repeal Section 34 retroactively to the date the law was passed. “No one is above the law," he stated."If a legal challenge is mounted, I’m confident the State will be able to assert its rights,” he added. 

Ramlogan filed three amendments for the Parliament to consider and pass, with a special majority. This means that it must get the support of the opposition. However Opposition Leader Keith Rowley said the amendments are deficient and therefore not acceptable to the opposition. 

Apart from the repeal of Section 34, the government wants to add a clause to say that all pending/outstanding applications made under the provision of Section 34 will be permanently stayed. In addition, no rights or expectations will be deemed to have been created, or come into effect as a result of the coming into the force of Section 34.

The AG said the government proposed the initial bill to deal with the huge backlog of court cases, which stood at more than 100,000 in 2011. He said PNM leader Rowley and PNM MPs had all voted for the bill when it was presented in the Lower House, and PNM senators supported it in the Upper House.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai