Please allow me space in your column to offer my views on a statement made by His Excellency, President Donald Ramotar on the poor rate of conviction of persons charged (SN, April 25, 2014 ‘Ramotar raps cops over poor conviction rate’)
It would seem as though His Excellency is surprised at the dismal rate of conviction.
A look at the Magistrate’s court would, to the knowing on-looker, appear to be a “David and Goliath” situation. Sure it is a fact! What are the odds of the prosecutor winning a case against a seasoned lawyer of even five years or more? Not even slim, when the prosecutor is a Corporal, a Sergeant or even an Inspector. And there are many Prosecutors in the Magistrates’ court who are barely ready for the job of prosecuting. There are a few who are doing a fair job at prosecuting but many are hopeless. Please, Editor, this is not just a critical observation that I am voicing it is the administration of justice that is being highlighted and the powers that be ought to be cognizant of the hurdles that must be crossed or circumvented to really deliver “justice” to aggrieved persons.
I will attempt a narration of a few examples that are real, have existed or are still existing and at the same time point out shortfalls.
More often than not many of the prosecutors are taxed with other jobs even during the weekdays when they ought to be preparing for trials and doing things like notifying witnesses, briefing witnesses, revising statements and preparing cross-examination questions—just to be prepared for a trial.
Key documents are not presented by some prosecutors. I was granted the fiat to prosecute two cases in particular. One was felonious wounding and the other was murder. Both these cases were engaging the attention of the courts for quite some time. The felonious wounding matter ran for almost two years in the magistrate’s court and the murder for almost a year. Both were defended by the same Attorney and both of these trials were met with the same hurdle—vital documents were not found—after they were uplifted. In the felonious wounding it was the medical and so a conviction was found in favour of a lesser count. In the murder it was the Post Mortem report but that was handled and resulted in a committal. Is there anything wrong with how we, as lawyers, go about defending our clients or is there a seriously corrupt practice going on within the ranks who move in and out of the courts, for one reason or the other??
Invariably, it has been the practice of the ranks in CID to extract a caution statement from persons by brutalizing many and using various ‘police techniques’ to make suspects confess and so they rely heavily on the admissibility of such statements. When the courts find out usually after a voir dire, that the statement was not given ‘freely and voluntarily’ and it is thrown out so too is the case. The investigation is usually limited and so no fingerprints, blood tests and such vital evidence are presented. How can the prosecution be expected to win cases?
There is one case that reeks of injustice and I will take the liberty to mention the name of the victim who is still not sure why the charges against his assailants, who brutally chopped him on his body, were dismissed. I have his consent to mention his name and so I will say that when this man, Surujpaul Ramnauth, was hospitalized as a result of a few chops on his body, he was sure that he would get justice. The long arm of the law reached out and grabbed the persons who alleged chopped him. They were charged and brought to court. Unfortunately for Ramnauth he was not brought to court. He was, subsequent to the assault on his person, found guilty of a minor offence and was serving time and he was never brought to court from the prison. Of course one would ask who is to be blamed. That will not give him justice. That is one of the many problems that need fixing. There is a famous Chinese saying—‘let us not fix the blame, let’s fix the problem”. Mr. President, will you fix all of the problems that ‘victims of violence’ are faced with when they venture to the courts to seek justice? You may get more convictions.
Because of some of the aforementioned practices many cases are just simply dismissed, particularly when Police are prosecuting. Will you make funds available, Mr. President to facilitate the DPP with lawyers to prosecute in the Magistrates’ court also? Others are dragged out in the courts and witnesses move on because of the length of time that they had to wait while seeking, without any guarantees, this thing called ‘justice’. A string of robberies occurred over a few months and half a dozen persons were charged with “robbery under arms, to wit guns”, some time ago and the trials lasted for about four years, in the magistrate’s court. All the charges were dismissed, mainly, because witnesses were not available. Good for the defence, but where is the justice?
I will conclude by saying that this brief account of some of the reasons cases are dismissed, struck out and/or discharged is by no stretch of the imagination an exhaustive list. Because I offer criticism of the administration of justice, in this beautiful land, does not mean that there is no justice or that I detest the way justice is meted out I am simply pin-pointing areas and instances where a lot of slack can be picked up and justice better served.
Give it a try, Mr. President.