Former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj says the executive and legislative arms of government must stay out of the judiciary remit on the issue of whether an accused person is entitled to bail or not.
Maharaj in responding to questions on Saturday at a symposium discussing the retention of the Privy Council at the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha headquarters in St Augustine said it was wrong for the executive and legislature to get involved as it interfered with the separation of powers insulating the judiciary from political influence.
“You cannot have an administration of justice that is to be respected and for people to have confidence in it if you take advantage and you oppress people. There is the presumption of innocence. However, you may feel about an individual they are innocent until proven guilty and what has been happening in TT in some matters you are proven guilty and they have to prove their innocence. I am sorry to be emotional about this. It is very wrong,” he said, in response to question.
He was asked about the push by the government and the police to extend the life of the Bail Act and to restrict bail for other offences, including murder, as a weapon to reduce crime.
Maharaj said he has always been an advocate for bail to be allowed for any offence and the court was entitled to impose conditions to ensure the accused does not abscond and attend their trials.
He said the issue of bail was a function of the judiciary.
“The executive arm and the legislative arm must allow the judiciary to determine whether people should be granted bail or not. I do not think that it is right for either the executive arm or the legislative arm to interfere with that discretion.”
He said it is “totally inhumane, it is cruel and unusual treatment and punishment to deny a man bail on a murder charge awaiting trial for ten or 15 years. No civilised society should be able to accept that and I think that it is wrong. And therefore what has been happening in recent times you are having situation not being improved, you are having it being worsened.”
Maharaj said in some instances the evidence against people accused of murder really supports a charge of manslaughter, a bailable offence, and the magistrate commits the accused to stand trial for murder remaining in jail for years before a trial.
He said will reserve his comment on the controversy around Attorney General Reginald Armour SC who has admitted to misleading a Miami court as to his full involvement as a defence attorney for a former client charged in the Piarco Airport corruption case owing to a memory lapse out of deference to an investigation by the Law Association.
Maharaj agreed that the allegations of misconduct against Chief Justice Ivor Archie who escaped facing a tribunal after the Prime Minister refused to invoke Section 137 of the Constitution had the potential to erode public trust and confidence in the judiciary. Archie was accused of using his influence to help fast-track applicants to get Housing Development Corporation houses but Dr Rowley, in July 2019, said he will not invoke impeachment proceedings against Archie to have a president-appointed tribunal established to look into the CJ’s conduct in office.
Rowley said his decision was based on legal advice that said he “did not need to” and “should not accede to the Law Association’s request.”
Maharaj said in such a situation the Law Association had a duty to inform the population about it. He said the media also had a role to put pressure on public officials to be accountable and it was doing a good job.
“We do not have a system that I can say is 100 per cent perfect, all systems are fallible We have to take steps to strengthen our institutions. I think the legal profession has to be a little more vocal. The legal profession is just not about making money. The lawyers must be prepared in certain circumstances to do pro bono (free of charge) work and to take up public interest litigation.”
Attorney Kiel Taklalsingh, one of the signatories of 40 lawyers who have requisitioned the Council of the Law Association to convene a special general meeting, to vote on a no confidence motion against Armour said he was yet to get a response from the association. He said there were a lot of young lawyers who were willing to take a stand against injustice but the support from senior practitioners was not always forthcoming.