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Justice and the consequences of inaction

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Some years ago, I visited a friend at Golden Grove prison and was jolted by the treatment meted which not only left an indelible mark about our gatekeeper’s injustices to man and propelled my intrinsic passion for the rights of the incarcerated amid such fetid if not heartless conditions, but is now forcing me to call on the conscience of those in authority to pay serious attention to, and change their modus-operandi lest, by their wilful blindness, they breed more criminals in a nation fast becoming so uncivilised.

My confidence in our justice system continues a precipitous decline when I witness the unremittingly insouciant manner in which magistrates, judges, and prosecutors treat with the civil liberties of the accused who under our Constitution are entitled to unobstructed bail where provided. When an accused appear in court seeking bail the prosecutor quickly objects as if to re-affirm gross ineptitude days after arrest on grounds that they are still “tracing” the prisoner’s record to determine bail qualification, so it’s back to filthy dungeons when unnecessary hours locked up constitutes infringement of their civil rights. When a prisoner complained, the magistrate nonchalantly equipped ‘Sir, it’s just for one more day and I’m denying you bail.” You don’t arrest people who are presumed innocent until proven guilty, deny them their inalienable rights by callously moving at snail pace, demonstrative that defendants freedom being with their family and work means nothing to them while they go to theirs with the full security and protection of the State.

Reputable human watchdogs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch repeatedly expressed alarm about Trinidad’s sordid prison conditions where, in 2018 prisoners are still openly defecating in a pale in overcrowded urine-infested cells, many sleeping on cold, dirty floors developing diseases for which treatment is belated. It is unconscionably wrong to arrest someone, say on Friday and they cannot face the court for three days. God forbid there’s a holiday as they languish in a police station not equipped to humanly facilitate them.

Justice is the essential dignity of all and every government has a moral obligation to act efficiently to protect its citizens. Yet, I am deeply troubled when every facet of our protective and justice system is shamelessly failing us daily. Police kill citizens in questionable circumstances and there is no accountability, yet they remain on the job. Citizens are caught with small quantities of marijuana and while the whole world is evaluating its health benefits, our prosecutors, judges, and magistrates practice a culture of addiction to severe jailing while ignoring the human cost, lost parenting, and severed family bonding in a culture where the burden falls disproportionately on the poor, punishing even those whose remorse is greater than their misdeeds.

With no transforming improvements under his tenure the embattled head of our justice system jets off haughtily with all the abundant perks of high office while poor citizens are locked up, impatiently awaiting the outcome of their cases for six, eight, ten, and 18 years, many with no movements in four years, sadly rotting in a despicable dungeon rendering exiting prisoners angry and violent. Six years after passage of the electronic monitoring system Fitzgerald Hinds, nearing three years in office suddenly realises it’s still in abeyance while our women are left exposed to dangers, and the forever acting CoP utters ambiguous expectations “hoping” to get pepper spray and tasers “very early during fiscal 2019” indiscernibly implying there’s no urgency to arrest uncontrolled crime with all compulsory equipment in the shortest possible time.

Our administrators of justice must engage alacrity advancing from its contented dark ages to modernise itself, establishing one compound comprising prison, jail, immigration detention, and courts, creating night courts to speed up justice, urgently establishing an overdue bond system to eliminate the unreasonably severe hardships perpetuated on the poor when securing bail whereby bonding companies are granted licences operating in proximity to courts, promptly providing bail, inevitably freeing an accused within reasonable time thus eliminating “cash bail” preposterously requiring an accused to show six months cash balances prior to arrest, eradicating fraudulent deeds and new predatory practices by bailors where standard ten per cent bail fee now averages 20 to 30 per cent further pinioning the poor to stay locked up.

Trevor Hosten is an entrepreneur and consumer's advocate, and founder of Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) which petitioned Government for and obtained Trinidad's Banking Ombudsman (now the Financial Services Ombudsman) and the Bankruptcy & Insolvency ACT of 2006.


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