By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 27, 2011
I am not a lawyer, I know nothing about legalese, but I do know when shit stinks and barely literate politicians tell me that I needn’t worry because they have the nation’s best interest at heart. Do I really have to believe the AG when he says that in making his decision about Ish and Steve that his only concern is that justice is served? Ah mean, is it that I have become so bey bey that I don’t know when someone is pissing on me even as he insists that it’s raining bucket ah drop. Ok, I stole this phrase from the title of Judge Judy’s book which reads “Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining” but the intent is the same: stop all this legal chicanery and respect the public’s point of view.
Lest we forget, the case of Ish and Steve started in 2002. This is a case in which these men were indicted about certain misdeeds that broke the laws of the United States. After much toing and froing it was decided that the best place to try these men was in the United States not only because justice was swift and sure but because these men would play on our justice system as a fine-tuned lyre knowing fully well that it could take almost two decades to frustrate the will of the public’s cry for justice.
Such a position is a well-supported fact of life in Trinidad and Tobago jurisprudence. In his recent ruling on this case, Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh recognized this difficulty when he stated that “In Trinidad and Tobago we are fully aware of the deficiencies in the administration of justice, and in particular the length of time which criminal trials take to be concluded.” He concluded: “These factors cannot ever be the reason, whether consciously or subconsciously, to order the extradition of our nationals to other jurisdictions where the criminal system is allegedly more efficient and effective.”
This sophistry did not blind the eyes of the US justice system to the cynicism of how we apply the law in our country and the interminable peregrination to the achievement of justice. Normally, the US is not concerned necessarily with how we operate our legal system unless one of its citizens become trapped in its maze and it (the US) feels that we are talking loud and saying nothing when we talk about justice. It was not for nothing, therefore, that the US Embassy expressed its disappointment with the inability of the T&T government to extradite Steve and Ish to face justice for violating US law.
But just in case the US sense of disappointment undermined by the decision of our AG not to appeal Justice Boodoosingh’s ruling, our AG released the following statement after the US decision: “Of paramount importance is the question of where…the defendants are likely to be brought to justice in the quickest and shortest possible time.” But wasn’t it our Justice Booddoosingh who, in his judgment, bemoaned the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of our legal system to render justice swiftly and fairly?
Not content with this piece of sophistry, our illustrious AG continued with his appalling logic: “Not appealing means that the way is cleared for courts in Trinidad and Tobago to commence the trial of the defendants without further delay. It does not mean that the defendants will walk free without facing a trial – a possible prospect if the State appealed. The Attorney General has every confidence in the ability of the Supreme Court of Justice of the republic of Trinidad and Tobago to competently and fairly try these defendants and deliver justice according to law.” One only has to think of the names Laurence Duprey or Calder Hart to understand the emptiness of this assurance.
Even if the AG’s statement seemed unequivocal it only took two days before Newsday declared in its headline: “Major Hurdles in Pursuing Ish and Steve Case.” It turned out that the potential hurdles that have arisen in light of the AG’s non-challenge of Justice Boodoosingh’s ruling have created major roadblocks to achieving justice: “The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is finding the situation very challenging is mounting renewed proceedings against [Steve and Ish] in local courts.”
Any citizen with any memory would recognize that the rationale for the recent State of Emergency was to disrupt the factors that led to the escalation of crime in our country, among them the use of T&T as a transshipment for drug distribution, the bringing of guns into our country and the necessary money laundering that accompanies these illegal activities. Necessarily, it is in the interest of the US and hopefully T&T to contest these alleged violations of law at each and every point.
The AG has assured us that now that the defendants have exercised their legal options: “The road is, therefore, now clear for the criminal justice system to get into high gear and commence their trial.” The countries, it seems, is skeptical of these assurances. Our experience of the pace of the judiciary in this country convinces us that it would take another decade before the fate of Steve and Ish is known. Like the AG, I have enormous confidence in the legal system of Trinidad and Tobago; but unlike the AG I question its ability to act quickly, competently and fairly.
The AG’s heart may be clean; his conscience may be clear and his mind may be satisfied but most of us remain troubled. As I assemble the evidence and listen to the AG’s assurances, the stench of the entire situation leaves me with a strange feeling that someone is peeing on me even as he assures me that I am only feeling the effects of mild showers. Is it that we have arrived at a situation in Trinidad and Tobago where the legal system, rather than the criminals, is the source of our distress?
May God and his angels prove me wrong as we enter 2012.