21 Feb 2021

Israel Khan's Doubliethink

Israel Khan SC has been out in front recently calling for the death penalty to be implemented. Unfortunately, the learned gent has missed some fundamental issues. He has erred in his logic and his knowledge base needs updating. He digs in like an Alabama tick on his position of 28 years ago – indicating to me, that in nearly 3 decades his thinking has remained stagnant, in spite of gaining Senior Counsel (SC) status through years of legal experience.

What Mr Khan is suggesting– opposing Blackstone’s ratio – is that 999 people should be hanged, together with the 1 guilty person! (see statistics below). He is pandering to those emotionally charged and intellectually void for popularity votes/approval.

Catching the criminals.

Mr Khan must know of the hundreds of people missing and presumed dead in T&T. Those are counted by the population as homicides. No perpetrators have been found. The hangman’s noose swings empty and idle. And that is at the heart of Mr Khan’s mistake and he actually recognises part of the problem. He said “…Vicious, wicked, evil and deliberate murderers should be executed while others outside this category, if found guilty, should receive a term of imprisonment up to life.

The magic words are ‘if found guilty’. Mr Khan must know that in the finding of guilt, the criminal justice system must first find a person to prosecute and then be robust enough to navigate all technicalities in law, to deliver justice. The death penalty has to be finalised within 5 years. So says the Privy Council - the highest court for T&T.


Success rates of detection currently lie below 6% according to the US’ CIA. Prosecution success, based upon well-known court statistics, is 1% of that 6%… In other words, 0.06%. To put it bluntly, TTPS’ ability to find evidence that actually stands up to vigorous scrutiny in a court of law is less than 0.1% of the crimes that are actually perpetrated on the public– all of this is floating in the public domain for years. Less than 1 in 1000!

Let that sink in!

Now, think about it some more.

No… You still have not thought about it enough.

Really concentrate on what those figures mean for the public and the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago – not the politicians; they have armed police escorts complete with blue lights and siren.

Mr Khan’s factual knowledge

Mr Khan very well knows of the hackneyed and insipid ability of the police in bringing cases to prosecution and getting the job done properly. He and his son Daniel Khan (former Inspector of Prisons), are aware of the woeful performance of the justice system which has hundreds of people on remand in prison awaiting trials, for donkey’s years (10 to 15 years seem normal by public account).

By contrast, another member of his Chambers, Mrs Ula Nathai-Lutchman had been out in front talking Human Rights for prisoners. She won a whole string of cases at the Appeal Court, which showed up flaws in the justice system. This is also in the public domain. Mr Khan knows about all that.

Failure of logic

Mr Khan submits that for an innocent man, “…It is better that he be executed than to incarcerate him for life; for that man knowing he is innocent would live a life of misery and may even wish that he were dead.” - and in the next breath, Khan states, “under our criminal justice system, it is one hundred times greater than a guilty person could be acquitted than an innocent person be convicted for murder.” The latter is a false comparison, devoid of the applications of the logic and must be confined to what is known as doublethink.

I am bewildered how Mr Khan recognises that the system might fail and a few innocents get their necks popped, but that is a price society must be willing to pay. This has been refuted by better legal minds (William Blackstone being the most famous) than him over the few centuries that the legal system has been developed (see below).

Relics of the past

Mr Khan relies on the thinking of Dr Wolf Middendorff, a criminologist of influence back in the 1970s, as some authoritative reference. Mr Khan’s quote of Middendorf is from a contribution in the book “Punishment for and Against” by H. B. Acton, last published in 1971. The book is a historical relic which would set you back around USD$ 500 for a hardcover copy - not because of true value but because it is simply a collector’s item.

Mr Khan creates the appearance of himself being tied into reputable sources from a bygone era. Khan would do well to pull himself into the 21st Century, where there are other reputable research results and opinions. The philosophy of law and legal concepts about punishment, have been baked into more balanced thinking, from 1971 to now, through endless test cases in international law and balanced applications of mature modern legal principles.

Is he afflicted by toxins in the blood affecting his thinking? Mr Khan needs to demonstrate the “enlightened leadership” he calls for.