Pretha Siew remembers vividly the day she was robbed.
She was sitting in her agro shop when a tall unmasked man walked in, grabbed her by the neck, put a gun to her mouth and robbed her of $3,782.
It wasn’t long before a suspect was held and Siew was asked to appear before an ID parade at the Marabella Police Station. She came face to face with the gunman and his representative.
“I remember thinking they would come back for me and this time I would end up dead,” she recalled.
She decided not to pursue any further action. The ID parade, she said, appeared to be more in favour of the suspect than her.
However, with the passing of the Evidence Amendment Act last week, Siew expressed relief that ID parade procedures will now change. All ID parades are to be video recorded so the victim no longer has the horror of facing the suspected perpetrator.
The Justice of the Peace who stands as an impartial representative in the process now has to fill out a prescribed form and the first description given by the victim has to be video or audio recorded.
ID parades bring more fear to the victim
An inspector of police who supervised ID parades for almost three decades in the Southern Division said the new amendments will bring about a higher detection rate in the T&T Police Service (TTPS). He explained that Siew’s ordeal was not unusual as many victims would back off from giving evidence because of the trauma of the ID parade.
“We would investigate a crime for days, pick up a suspect but as soon as we put him in an ID parade the victim gets cold feet,” the inspector explained.
Because of the fear, procedural rules for the ID parade were adjusted to suit circumstances.
“What we did was put a mask on the faces of our victims to make sure that the relative of the suspect does not know who they are,” the inspector said.
“We will arrange for the victim to come in from a different location in a vehicle with tinted class. They are put in a room so the suspect family can’t see them. We do not allow the victim to walk through the charge room.”
Justifying the procedures, the inspector explained, “We do that because the whole idea is to protect our victim. With the way the country is going, who can blame us? Not everything is written in the law so we make our own procedures to suit the situation. Based on my experiences, I will do anything to protect my witness. I will go to the court and say I did everything to protect my witness and who is going to tell me I do something unlawful?”
Sometimes the suspect’s relative would give the victim a cut-throat sign or a gun sign to scare them.
Many women who survived raped suffered in silence, refusing to identify their attackers.
Sex crimes were rampant, the inspector said, so police officers went out of their way to make sure that known attackers were jailed without appearing on ID parades. To do this, they obtained confession statements.
Getting a confession out of the suspect was a sure way of avoiding the ID confrontation.
“If we have evidence that the man confessed to a crime or if stolen items were found in the man’s home or if we have a witness who knows the man by name and face, in those cases there will not be an ID parade,” he added.
Many times officers would find difficulty in getting participants for the line-up.
“You have to get eight persons from the public of similar description, ethnicity, complexion, height so that the suspect will have a fair chance. Many times we have great difficulty in getting people to do an ID parade. That could take days sometimes because people are unwilling to do that these days,” he said.
“Depending on the crime, we work with 48 hours to organize ID parades but if we go longer we have to justify it before the High Court. The Judge can agree for two more days if we have a good justification,” he said.
Long ago, the police gave the ID parade participants a bottle of rum or a pack of cigarettes to assist the police.
“Later on we started giving them $50 for each ID parade they appear on,” he added. He said it was not unusual for officers to buy eight tee-shirts or coveralls for the line-up out of their own pockets.
Types of Identification Procedures
Clause 12E – Main types of identification procedures
1- Identification Parade
2- Identification using the video medium
3- Identification in a public place with the consent of the suspect
4- Identification by Confrontation
5- Identification by verification where the eye witness is asked “Is this the person you referred to in the statement.”
Training Needed To Implement the New Act
Meanwhile, temporary High Court Judge and former vice president of the Law Association Rajiv Persad said he was pleased with the provisions of the Evidence Amendment Act.
“This will definitely benefit the criminal justice system,” Persad said.
The attorney who also served as former deputy chairman of the Integrity Commission added, “I noticed that the provisions in the Bill are seeking to codify into legislation many of the areas in criminal procedures are not really sufficiently provided for in the law currently. Concerning identification processes, the Bill introduces a hierarchy of identification processes that were not overtly apparent to those investigating crimes.
“It is nice to see the Bill reinforcing the importance of ID parades as well as appreciating that there are other mechanisms which are available to the police which should be resorted to after other processes are then used,” he added.
Saying the Confrontation ID parade was not always the best option, Persad said, “I am also applauding the introduction and use of photographs for identification. It is important to have rules relating to it now which legislation deals with and introduction of the use of videos in these identification processes. These mechanisms will ably assist the police in their investigations.”
Saying the Act was a step in the right direction, Persad said a lot more was needed to boost crime-solving rates but he said it was satisfying to see that T&T will finally be using processes already utilized in the region.
Meanwhile, attorney Kevin Ratiram agreed that the new Evidence Amendment Act will improve the detection and crime-solving success of the TTPS. However, he said training should be part of the implementation of the law.
“Having an ID parade done using video footage will be an improvement because previously, many people did not want to attend police stations to participate in ID parades because it meant they will be in this same room with the suspect or be close to the suspect. This led to many suspects being freed,” he said.
He also revealed that when a matter reaches the Magistrates Court, a lot of time would be wasted on deliberating whether the ID parade was fair. Many suspects would complain those in the ID parade lineup did not resemble them.
Previously the issue of ID parades by the police was governed by the Judges Rules which were a guide and didn’t have the force of Statute, Ratiram said.
“Now with the Evidence Amendment Bill, the provisions of ID parades take the form of Statute which means that all those involved in the process will be obligated by law to adhere to the new provisions. One of the main aspects of Bill is that ID parades will have to be video recorded. Previously there were no legal requirements for it to be recorded or photographed. Now with video footage, we can see for ourselves how it was done,” Ratiram said.
“Also with the new Act, whenever a witness gives the first description of a suspect, it has to be video recorded or audio recorded. Before the police would write the description in the police diary and witnesses didn’t have to sign to it. When the matter comes to court and the witness gives a different description, he can deny giving a particular description. Now Police are legally obligated to video or audio record so at no time, can the witness say I never said that. There will be a degree of certainty in respect to what the witness told the police,” Ratiram said.
He called for training sessions to be held with the police, JPs and other stakeholders so there will be proper implementation of the Act. Ratiram also said the issue was long overdue and he hoped to see favourable outcomes in the delivery of justice.