Denis Solomon 975 words
It is a particularly nasty mentality that takes its opponents decencies for weaknesses. Such is the mentality of Mr. Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj. Despite the restraint with which the media have treated him in relation to the major flaws in his background, Mr. Maharaj has not hesitated to treat the media as sworn enemies and seek to muzzle them with draconian legislation.
The press has only with great discretion ever alluded to the presence of Mr. Maharajs brother in a Florida death cell, on the honest but possibly false ground that his family connections are irrelevant to his office. As for the far from irrelevant criminal charges, including conspiring to defeat the course of justice, which have been brought against Mr. Maharaj himself, no newspaper mentioned them even when his biography was published on his assumption of the office of Attorney General.
So much for decency. But incompetence is another matter. Yesterday Mr. Maharaj, who is in London in pursuit of his holy grail of capital punishment, was interviewed on the BBCs programme Caribbean Report. If ever a bunch of journalists missed, through cowardice or incompetence, one golden opportunity after another to turn a banal programme into an exciting and relevant one, it was in that broadcast.
The programme began with the sound of hymn-singing in an Anglican church. Trinidadians take religion seriously, said the announcer, and so most of them are in favour of the death penalty. This was followed by a number of uneducated voices deploring the crime rate and calling for something to be done. The suggestion that the only feasible something was the resumption of hanging went unchallenged.
This arbitrary correlation between religiosity and enthusiasm for hanging came as something of a shock. The correlation, equally tenable on the evidence, between religiosity and criminality was not elaborated upon.
Then came the piece de resistance. A newly-fledged female lawyer, one Ms Debydeen (Im not sure of the spelling), was sprung on the listener as the only lawyer whose father had been condemned to death for murder. Ms Debydeen maintained her fathers innocence and blessed the Privy Councils Pratt and Morgan decision for saving him from the rope, and therefore making it possible for his seventy-five year sentence to be quashed if his innocence can be proved.
The emphasis had now shifted, therefore, from the death penalty as a deterrent, to the role of the Privy Council as a safeguard against irrevocable miscarriages of justice. The presenter, to emphasise the possibility of such miscarriages, referred to the Scotland Yard report on corruption in the Trinidad and Tobago police. Presumably he had to refer to the police and not the judicial system because nobody has written a report on the corruption of the judicial system. Mr. Maharaj, whose interview began at this point, seized gleefully on the distinction. Asked if he thought the judicial system without the Privy Council provided sufficient safeguards against wrongful convictions, he replied that there was corruption in the British police too, but the misdeeds of an officer in one case were not regarded as impugning his evidence in another. In Mr. Debydeens case, there had been no proof of a miscarriage of justice.
The Attorney General then went on to justify the Trinidad and Tobago system by enumerating the levels through which murder cases go, from the preliminary hearing to the Privy Council. This justification contained a really astonishing item. In his list of safeguards Mr. Maharaj had the gall to include constitutional motions the very safeguard he had done his damnedest to eliminate by a Constitutional amendment, which he had to abandon because he realised Parliament would not pass it.
This example of chutzpah was all the more striking in that Mr. Maharaj knows very well that the fly in his particular ointment is not the Privy Council, which regularly throws out constitutional motions, but the unwillingness of his own legislature to abolish the Constitutional right to them. It is their continued existence that enables the appellants to get past the Pratt and Morgan deadline, however much the judicial process is fast-tracked. The question Mr. Maharaj should have been asked, therefore, was why he was attempting to achieve through negotiation with the British judicial authorities something that he couldnt get from his own legislature.
The way it ought to have been put should have been something like this: Mr. Maharaj, you wish to remove from your system an inherited British institution, the Privy Council. What is the view on this of the other great British institution your country has inherited, namely, a free and sovereign Parliament? Or do you have plans to abolish that too?
To dig up a lawyer, opposed to the abolition of the Privy Council, whose father had been convicted of murder, but fail to make the comparison with an Attorney General, bent on hanging, whose brother was in the death cell, was more than journalistic negligence. It was a journalistic crime. As soon as Mr. Maharaj had finished explaining that the Trinidad and Tobago judicial system had adequate safeguards against false conviction, he should have been asked: What do you think about the safeguards of the Florida judicial system? If he said they were adequate, the next question should have been So if your brother is executed, that means he was guilty? If he said they werent, or refused to answer, the next question should have been then to save your brother from wrongful execution, dont you think the death penalty should be abolished in Florida?
And a question he should have been asked in any case was Was it the safeguards of the Trinidad and Tobago system that enabled you to avoid conviction on six charges, including perverting the course of public justice, and conspiracy to murder? He might also have been asked whether, if convicted, he would have appealed to the Privy Council.
Copyright © Denis Solomon Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association www.humanist.org.tt/humanist/forum/solomon