The Opposition has noted the concerns of the Law Association and their call for “open and good faith dialogue among all stakeholders” of the Criminal Justice System. To this end, as the Opposition, we continue to fulfil our constitutional role inside and outside of the Parliament to ensure the protection of our Constitution and have clearly expressed our concerns regarding the Evidence (Amendment) Bill, 2020. The Bill in its present form only requires a simple majority and can be passed with Government’s support alone as the Attorney General has yet again removed the special majority requirement. We condemn the Attorney General for his false narrative that somehow the Opposition is required to support this piece of law.
Yesterday, the Law Association also expressed their reservations regarding the Evidence (Amendment) Bill, 2020 which they have said they cannot support in its present form as the Bill must be legally sound and workable. The Attorney General deliberately misled the Parliament last Friday and indicated that the Law Association supported the Bill.
The current Evidence (Amendment) Bill, 2020 only deals with identification evidence, admissions, confessions, and special measures for witnesses to give evidence.
The passage of the Evidence (Amendment) Bill, 2020 has far-reaching consequences which can potentially lead to complexities in criminal investigations and simple errors or mistakes resulting in the inadmissibility of evidence thereby causing criminal cases to collapse in court on technicalities.
The Opposition calls for a robust and expedient criminal justice system rather than a temporary fix. The nation was shocked to learn that after 15 years, DNA analysis in the Sean Luke murder trial is still not ready. The system needs to be fixed before introducing any new law. We have categorically stated that the Evidence (Amendment) Bill, 2020 will not address, in particular, the issues at the Forensic Science Center.
We have voiced our concerns regarding the mismanagement of the divisions of national security, in particular, the Trinidad and Tobago Forensic Science Center. The Forensic Science Center is plagued with a myriad of problems which has fallen on deaf ears. With problems such as staffing, a ridiculous backlog of cases, failure to operationalize the DNA database and populate the DNA databank inevitably has led to the sluggish pace of criminal cases in court. We have now seen the true state of the forensic pathology department of the Forensic Science Center.
The Forensic Science Center falls directly under the portfolio of National Security Minister Stuart Young and the issues at that Centre are an indictment on his continued incompetence and performance.
There are other areas that need urgent attention, inter alia, the Coastguard, the under-resourcing of the TTPS, CCTV camera footage, proper aerial surveillance, inadequate courtroom facilities, protection of witnesses and prison reform. There are many laws on the statute books, but what is required is the implementation and enforcement of those laws. The only way forward is not only in legislation but a comprehensive overhaul of the criminal justice system and that discussion must take place with all the stakeholders involved.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP
Opposition Leader of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
9 February 2021