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Fix criminal justice system
Ian K Ramdhanie, MSc,
One of the biggest problems facing T&T concerns the criminal justice system. Overall, it has not stepped up to the plate. As T&T has changed over time in terms of the level of criminality, the criminal justice system is playing catch-up.
With a properly working criminal justice system, innocent people will be set free in a reasonable time period, and guilty ones will be convicted, sentenced and have their punishment executed. Punishment may include fines, imprisonment, community service, reprimand and discharged etc.
The criminal justice system in any country involves three elements: law enforcement (eg police), judiciary (eg courts) and corrections (eg prisons). These entities are all linked to one another. Inefficiencies and malfunctions occur in each element of the criminal justice system as well as in their interconnectedness.
There will never be a perfect criminal justice system in T&T or in any other jurisdiction. But there are certain benchmarks of success that the citizenry ought to benefit from. Importantly, all stakeholders should be part of setting these standards.
In this article we shall look at some of the shortfalls of the criminal justice system and make some recommendations especially from a public-centred approach. Some of the problems include:
• Police investigations usually take an inordinate length of time to be completed without adequate updates to victims and the public where appropriate.
• Court cases take too long to be called.
• Court trials take too long to be completed due to postponements, adjournments etc.
• Judgments (including written judgements) take too long in coming.
• The appeal processes are too lengthy and reek of delay tactics.
• Private attorney fees are high and many people have to resort to state-funded attorneys.
• Costs for appeals are also high and is a serious deterrent for many.
• There seems to be inconsistency on bail matters. This has several ripple effects on possible further crimes when released on bail, overcrowding in remand prison etc.
• The issues with witnesses include: some go missing, change their position, forgot what actually occurred, move on with their lives, migrate, etc.
• Inadequate and ineffective witness protection programme where witnesses opt out of it due to problems therein.
• Disparities in sentences by magistrates and judges. A Sentencing Commission was established but not implemented to date.
• Establish a system whereby victims and the public are updated regularly without jeopardising the case. It is quite possible that other leads can be provided to the investigative team if regular contacts are maintained.
• Institute systems to increase both the detection and conviction rates.
• Set time frames and targets for various stages in the investigation process. A computerised tracking investigation case management system should be employed at the police level. This also builds public confidence and satisfaction in the criminal justice system.
• Set reasonable time frames for cases to be called and dealt with after the investigation has been completed. For example, should it be two months, three months etc?
• Develop systems to reduce the incidents of case postponements etc. This should be statute-based as well as include rewards and punishments to all parties concerned. There should also be compensation to victims whose matters have gone beyond projected time frames.
• Set clear and reasonable guidelines for judges by when judgments, including written ones, should be made. Again, a system of statute and reward and punishments can be instituted.
• Set tighter guidelines on the judgment appeal process with the ultimate aim of reducing time wastage and delay tactics. Rewards and punishments should be instituted.
• The legal profession should consider setting a fair and reasonable attorney fee schedule. For instance, there should be a fee range for attorneys with various years of experience for example: one to three years, three to six years, six to 10 years, 10 to 15 years, over 15 years, senior counsels etc. Also, consideration should be given for a fee structure for different types of criminal matters for example, murder vs larceny. A similar structure can be developed for appeal court matters.
• Develop a clear bail policy whereby standardised provisions are made that will reduce frequent bail inconsistencies.
• Develop and implement a contemporary and expanded witness protection system.
• Implement the Sentencing Commission Act that can conduct the necessary research and guide the judiciary and, importantly, educate the public among other things.
Other recommendations to improve the criminal justice system include:
• Establish a night court system for petty crimes.
• Establish specialised courts for drug, juveniles, traffic etc.
• Establish and use more often alternatives to the formal criminal justice system where applicable.
• Develop a fair and effective plea bargaining system.
• Implement a parole system.
• Create effective alternatives to imprisonment.
• Create greater accountability and transparency systems for those in the criminal justice system which will include compulsory declarations to the Integrity Commission.
• Establish Oversight Bodies for all elements of the criminal justice system with citizens being among their memberships.
If we get the criminal justice system right, then T&T is one step closer to being a safer and more secure society.
—The Caribbean Institute for Security and Public Safety offers a wide range of courses in criminal law, policing, corrections, corporate security, first aid and CPR, fire warden, OSH/HSE-related areas among many other areas. Contact us at 223-6999, 223-6968, 222-8347, [email protected] or www.caribbeansecurityinstitute.com
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