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Major overhaul needed for justice system
Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2005

THE EDITOR: Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls' accusation that "lawyers and the police are responsible for the slow pace of matters in the magistrates' courts" should be taken very seriously and in fact acted upon by those concerned. Mr McNicolls also accused judges of "being responsible for granting bail" after magistrates have refused bail, especially for those accused of kidnapping. No doubt the experienced Mr McNicolls was relaying to the national community some of the frustrations experienced by magistrates and this at the hands of some who sit higher up, who should know better but appear quite distant from the perverse consequences of their rulings.

But then as a welcome ray of hope, Justice Rajendra Narine, quickly followed by Justice Anthony Carmona, expre-ssed strong reservations about the criminal justice system. After expressing shock at a jury's verdict, Justice Narine said that it was obvious that the "system of justice being employed in Trinidad and Tobago was not working." In the eyes of many of us, he is right. And he cited other instances to that effect. But will anything be done? Could we dare hope that those in authority will take these civic concerns seriously and act accordingly? Knowing these "authorities" as we do, should we hold our breath? Will the Law Association, the Criminal Lawyers Association or the Magistrates' Association (wherever it is) comment on Mr McNicolls' or Justice Narine's accusations?

You see, all these shortcomings - bail carelessly handled, verdicts unfaithful to the evidence, etc - contribute to the serious crime problem we now face. It is not merely a matter of more police, more vehicles, more money. The remarks of Justice Narine and Chief Magistrate McNicolls were duly followed by similar expressions of concern by Justice Anthony Carmona who in fact expressed "full agreement" with Justice Narine's concerns over jurors' decision-making (Newsday, May 16, 2005, p 16). I have spoken to enough jurors, lawyers and judges to realise that all is not well with our jury system. Some of this information is lodged in my 1985 book, Trial by Jury. Last year, UWI Lecturer Dr Derek Chadee also published a book on our jury system.

The jury system, both in terms of management and procedures, needs urgent review. Of course, many people have faith in it. But faith is not enough. Defence lawyers will tell you that there is an art to manipulating the minds and prejudices of jurors. In 2003, April 3 to be exact, I wrote the Chief Justice in this regard. But of course, only when the whole thing comes tumbling down upon us, or a serious scandal with the jury occurs, will we do what we should be doing all now. Hear what I told the Chief Justice: "A variety of problems has arisen from time to time regarding the operation of the jury system."

This is not the occasion for me to list all these problems which I am quite sure you have observed over the years. I do wish to suggest, however, with great respect, that you establish an internal committee to evaluate the current system and examine the extent to which the jury system can be improved." It is time to put aside all the nice sounding jingles about the jury and the criminal justice system and take a serious look at how we can improve things. The words of Messrs McNicolls, Narine and Carmona should be taken very seriously now.

Director, Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice
UWI, St Augustine Campus

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