Gonsalves, other leaders receive quick backlash for comments on judiciary
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves
Front Page
April 21, 2023

Gonsalves, other leaders receive quick backlash for comments on judiciary

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves is among regional leaders who have been receiving a swift backlash for comments made at a two day regional symposium on crime and violence in Trinidad and Tobago this week.

The Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago, is one of the entities that has responded to the comments he made about the granting of bail to persons charged with murder. Prime Minister Gonsalves, addressing participants at the symposium, was critical of “some members of the judiciary in the region” for “not being harsh enough in their sentencing of criminals.” The Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago was swift in its response. In a statement issued following the symposium, the Association said it “deprecates the recent attempts by regional political leaders to ridicule judges for their decisions to grant bail to persons charged with murder.”

The Association is also taking issue with Dr Gonsalves’ suggestion that some judges tend to favour the clients of certain lawyers.

Bail is open to persons charged with murder in Trinidad and Tobago; however, in St Vincent and the Grenadines, this is not the case. Persons charged with murder are remanded into custody while they await the preliminary inquiry into the matter for which they are charged.

The Law association of Trinidad and Tobago stated that “… the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago enshrines the right of a person charged with a criminal offence to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

“This is not a lawyer’s pious incantation of some technicality aimed at thwarting the ends of justice.

“It is an integral part of the justice system itself which affords protection to all persons if they are charged with a criminal offence,” the statement said.

It added that “persons charged with an offence who are denied bail, always run the risk of being deprived of their liberty for the increasingly long periods it takes for a case to come to trial and then be exonerated at the conclusion of the trial process.”

“This is why the Constitution also guarantees the right not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause.”

The Association pointed out, however, that bail can also be denied for a just cause.

“… Judges cannot simply decide not to grant bail altogether.”

Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados also told the symposium that many years ago, “people did not get bail for murder.”

“Now when I look at the stats, not just out of the Bahamas, Barbados and all through the region, the people who are causing the greatest problems are charged with two, three four murders.
“Something is fundamentally wrong,” PM Mottley insisted.

The Daily Express Newspaper of Trinidad and Tobago penned an editorial “In defence of judges” in its April 17 issue in which it states that “Denial and refusal to own up to their failures are standard behaviours among politicians in office. It was therefore no surprise that several politicians at this week’s Caricom crime symposium blamed everyone but themselves for spiralling crime”.

“There were scapegoats aplenty, beginning with parents and including judges, the criminal law system, the youth, the media, the music, the Opposition, and the United States, among others.

Not once did any politician admit to inept leadership, public-policy mistakes, shoddy legislation, wastage of limited public funds, under-investment in critical social services, pursuit of electioneering policies over good governance, a lack of imagination and any of the multitude of sins that politicians in office visit upon their populations,” the editorial charged. Judge, justice Jacob Wit of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is suggesting a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system. The NewsDay Newspaper of Trinidad and Tobago said the judge was offering a judicial perspective at the Caricom crime symposium at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The paper said Justice Wit began by denying charges made on the first day of the two day symposium that judges seemed to “live on the planet Mars” based on their decisions handed down in court. The paper reports him as saying that the constitutions of many countries in the region (excluding Trinidad and Tobago) mandated that trials must be fair for all parties concerned.

“The trial should be fair for all- defendants,victims, witnesses and society as a whole. The case shall be afforded a fair hearing, not only the victim,” the paper quoted the judge as saying. He used as an example a girl who at 26 was sexually assaulted and not having her matter dealt with for up to 16 years; and of witnesses being summoned to court and waiting for hours only to be told to return at another date to in support of his position on fairness all around and the need for overhaul of the system. The paper also quoted justice Wit making reference to Chief Justice Ivor Archie, as saying recently that the whole system is in crisis.

The Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago has called for all stakeholders to work towards dealing with the crime situation across the region.