7 Nov 2015

Long arm of the Law is really a short stick up the backside

Not too long ago, maybe about two days after the general elections held on September 7, I posted a comment on the PNM Facebook page asking Dr Keith Rowley – Prime Minister – to update the Offences Against the Person Act in Trinidad and Tobago as a matter of priority. There are a number of reasons for this; most of them have been verbalised on this blog many times before. I did also mentioned that the update to this particular Act should be done post-haste and in my comment I gave several reasons for this.

Whether or not the Prime Minister saw my comment is a matter of conjecture. But I will say this, and continue to say it, that this particular Act needs a dramatic update if not a full rewrite. This statute is an inherited British one dating back to 1925. In other words, we inherited this as a pre-Independence law, kept it when we were made Republic, and have not really moved on despite another 10 years into the future will make that particular law 100 years old!

One may say that the age of the Act does not necessarily reflect upon its efficiency – in this case it certainly does. For example, how many of you know that the most serious offence is to assault/batter a Christian priest?!

But here's my main grievance, and I will compare it to the equivalent British standard: in Trinidad and Tobago, apparently the police dunceys are unable to charge someone who commits an assault/battery unless the victim files a complaint. However, comparatively, in the UK there is no need for the victim to complain. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS, the equivalent of the DPP in Trinidad and Tobago) will prosecute regardless. And sometimes even if the victim wants the charges dropped, the CPS can continue as a matter of public interest/safety.

Not so in Trinidad and Tobago. I refer to the recent case of a very small-size woman being kicked and sent skating across the floor.

The 26-year-old woman videotaped receiving a severe beating with a steel object in a video which was circulated on social media yesterday has refused to co-operate with police investigating the incident.

Her refusal has caused investigating officers at the Arouca Police Station to consult with their legal team on whether or not the suspect, an Arouca businessman, could be charged with any offence. With her refusal to file a complaint, the victim has left police with a case that may see the perpetrator of the vicious beating walk free, despite at least seven eyewitnesses to the incident.

In a telephone interview last night, attorney and former police officer Lyndon Leu said the police could only lay charges if the victim gave a statement or if the victim’s medical notes or a statement from the doctor showed the victim admitted to being beaten by her partner.

“It is a very difficult situation for the police. They can’t do much without a statement. Without a statement from her there is no victim,” Leu said.

He said the video would have been enough to arrest and detain the perpetrator for 48 hours but police needed more in order to charge him. Leu, who saw the video on Facebook yesterday, said police could either charge him for a minor offence, which was assault by beating, or possibly a major offence of wounding with intent to cause bodily harm.

He added: “If the police are clever or innovative they can find a way to lay charges but it is still possible that the victim will find a way to sabotage the case when it goes to court. “But as funny as it sounds, she has to tell the police she did not give permission for him to beat her.”

I have never read such rubbish in my life, and it seems to me that the interpretation of the law is done by idiots!

According to Section 26 of the Domestic Violence Act, evidence obtained through a statement is admissible in court if a witness refuses to co-operate.

Section 26 of Domestic Violence Act

Where direct oral evidence of a fact would be admissible in any proceedings under this Act, a document containing a statement made by the complainant which forms part of the record compiled by the police and tending to establish that fact, shall be admissible in circumstances where—
(a) The complainant refuses to be sworn as a witness; or
(b) having been sworn as a witness, gives oral evidence which is inconsistent or contradictory to the statement forming part of the police record.

So here's my next question – why are they looking at a charge under the Domestic Violence Act rather than the Assault Against the Person Act? Or both? To me, this is just another example of the stupidity of the members of the police service in Trinidad and Tobago. It demonstrates a very singular view, a tiny pinprick of light shining through. In other words rather than looking at all the ways the law can be used, they look at the single particular situation and have only a unilateral approach to that one problem – one solution mindset.

When I think about this situation only three words come to mind: FFS…