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Sunday 19 August 2018
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Bhoe: Gaps in Plea Bargain Bill

THE law is moving towards a “mechanical system” where cases are resolved by cutting deals but without anyone ever learning the truth and the rights and wrongs of a matter, lamented Caroni Central MP Dr Bhoe Tewarie as he queried the notion of plea-bargaining, in Wednesday’s Lower House debate on the Criminal Procedure (Plea Discussion and Plea Agreement) Bill 2017. He bemoaned that the whole story around a case may never be known, and that the lawyers from both sides may resolve the matter but without the accused person not knowing anything until the very end.

Tewarie wanted to know exactly who will have oversight of the plea bargaining process, even as he noted that many inducements are listed from the very start of the Bill. “Who is to manage this and ensure that these inducements are not a part of the process?” he asked.

“I am concerned how the system will be managed and monitored.” He suggested that the prosecuting attorney may have too much power in the plea bargaining process, such as not being obliged to disclose to the accused all the evidence, witnesses or the identity of the accuser.

“It puts leverage in the prosecutor’s hands,” Tewarie argued, saying the procedure lacked equity.

Tewarie was worried that the proposed plea bargaining is an “extremely complicated” process that is about to be introduced into a dysfunctional justice system. Although saying the intention behind the bill is good, he again lamented its insertion into a dysfunctional system, saying, “This is madness”.

In a minor tiff with Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi – whom he told not to talk down to him just because he (Tewarie) has no law degree – Tewarie said that logic (and not a law degree) dictates that you can’t reform a dysfunctional system.

Recalling overseas cases where plea-bargaining had gone terribly wrong, he said, “I want to urge caution”.

Minister in the Ministry of Education, Dr Lovell Francis, chided Tewarie’s critique of the justice system as “cynical and sarcastic” towards TT, and questioned whether Tewarie was truly a patriot.

Earlier Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal also queried plea bargaining by noting that while this procedure had been used to convict in record time those American citizens involved in the Piarco Airport scandal, it had also seen them let out from jail in record time.

He suggested that the bill not allow plea bargaining to be accessed by persons accused of major white collar crimes or murder.

“What’s the protection so a cold-blooded killer won’t enter a deal? We could limit what could be negotiated.” Moonilal also queried provisions for allowing the relatives and friends of an accused person to also be covered in a plea bargain deal. He asked how does one define “family” and “friends”? He added, “Why give this incentive to co-conspirators?”.

Debate on this bill continues next Wednesday at 1.30 pm, plus the Marriage (Amendment) Bill and Fire Services (Amendment) Bill.

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