TT Prime Minister to break her silence on controversial legislation

Persad-Bissessar yesterday walked around Laventille and environs where she met and encouraged residents to keep the peace.

Almost three hours later after the walk, when pressed by the media on the Section 34 issue, Persad-Bissessar responded: “I will be making a statement tomorrow after Cabinet.”

Later, a release was issued by the Office of the Prime Minister stating that the Prime Minister will be issuing a full statement on the matter today after Cabinet is concluded.

The Prime Minister stated in the release:

“Soon after Section 34 was proclaimed, the Director of Public Prosecutions expressed concerns to the Attorney General regarding the implications and consequences of the event. The Attorney General sought an immediate audience with me and, having examined the matter myself, I was satisfied that the consequences and far-reaching implications of this section were not consistent with Government policy.

“In the circumstances, I gave instructions for the Parliament to be convened immediately to consider a Bill to repeal Section 34. I also summoned the Cabinet to an emergency meeting to discuss the matter. The Government therefore moved swiftly to successfully reverse the ill-effects and unintended consequences of this section.

“Apart from taking immediate and necessary action to repeal Section 34, I chose to remain silent on the issue of its early proclamation because a premature commentary on the matter before all information became available to me would have been injudicious. Since then I have been personally enquiring into the circumstances that created the situation before us today and will be issuing a full statement on the matter tomorrow, Thursday, September 20 after Cabinet is concluded.”

Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act, 2011 was proclaimed by the President on August 30, thereby giving accused persons a legal avenue to apply to a judge to throw out a case if more than ten years had passed since the commission of the alleged offence and if the trial had not yet started.

On the heels of the proclamation, businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson, as well as other accused, applied to the High Court under Section 34 for their freedom.

The UNC financiers are accused of bid-rigging and conspiracy to defraud the Government of Trinidad and Tobago during the period March 1, 1997 to December 21, 2000, in the construction of the Piarco International Airport Terminal.

Last Tuesday the Prime Minister held an emergency Cabinet meeting and instructed that Parliament be reconvened to repeal Section 34.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the House of Representatives and Senate met respectively and Section 34 was repealed.

Early last Friday morning, the President signed the Proclamation Order repealing Section 34 which he had proclaimed just two weeks ago on August 30.

The furore continued, however, with Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley calling on citizens to march against the Government’s handling of Section 34.

The Opposition argued that it had supported the Act because assurances were given that it would not be proclaimed until the legal infrastructure was put into place.

On Tuesday, Rowley led a march from the Red House to President’s House where he presented a petition bearing 25,000 signatures to acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith which called on the Prime Minister to explain the section 34 fiasco and also revoke the appointments of Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and Justice Minister Herbert Volney.

On the same day that Rowley and thousands marched, Congress of the People (COP) political leader Prakash Ramadhar publicly apologised for his part in the Section 34 fiasco.

Ramadhar urged his own Government of which he is a partner, to come forward and explain the details that led to the passing of the contentious section.

Not only did the DPP take issue with the proclamation of Section 34 but the Criminal Bar Association and Law Association also stated that they were not consulted on this particular section.

Chief Justice Ivor Archie also spoke out on the issue at the opening of the 2012/13 law term, saying the implementation of any legislative policy to eliminate preliminary enquiries could not realistically have taken place before the first quarter of 2013.

Today, the country will hear from the Prime Minister herself why her Cabinet took the decision to proclaim Section 34 and whether anyone will be held accountable.

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