The University of the West Indies Faculty of Law’s Human Rights Clinic is spearheading a landmark case seeking expedited trials and special bail for remand prisoners who have been awaiting trial for more than five years for murder.
In the lawsuit, which was filed earlier this month and announced yesterday, the clinic highlighted the cases of seven people who have been awaiting trial for murder for up to 18 years.
In the filings, obtained by Guardian Media, the group is claiming that their constitutional rights to protection of the law and to liberty except by due process of law, are being infringed by the ongoing protracted state of their respective cases. They are also contending that being forced to endure the inhumane conditions of local remand prisons for extended periods constitutes cruel and unusual treatment.
“The claimants maintain, in those circumstances, even where a statutory provision denies the claimants access to bail on a charge of murder allowing for their incarceration until trial, the constitutional guarantees mandate that the State try the claimant within a reasonable time and, where the court finds a breach, the court is empowered under the Constitution to craft a remedy of constitutional bail and to make orders for expedited trial together with attendant orders it sees fit,” their lawyers said.
In an affidavit attached to the case, attorney Joseph Cowles sought to give information on the claimants—Anthony Albert, Bruce Henry, Ramdaye Ramlal, Kareem Ramlal, Hyacinth Loubon, Sasha Seepersad and Malaika St Louis.
According to Cowles, Albert and Henry have been awaiting trial for almost 18 years; the Ramlals and Loubon for 14 years and it is between seven and eight years for Seepersad and St Louis.
Cowles claimed their oustanding trials were delayed due to multiple issues, including lengthy preliminary inquires, delays in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) filing indictments after preliminary inquires, legal aid attorneys withdrawing from cases and the backlog of cases within the criminal justice system.
“None of the claimant’s cases are complex in nature, involve onerous evidence, rely on substantial witnesses or involve technical points of law. There is nothing particular or unusual in any of the claimants’ cases which warrant delay,” Cowles said.
Cowles also briefly outlined issues with the remand facilities at the Golden Grove Prison in Arouca, where the group is detained. He noted that there is overcrowding, limited sanitation and recreation facilities, insufficient food and drinking water and a lack of toilet facilities in cells.
In a press release issued yesterday, the clinic stated that the lawsuit was a result of a partnership with the European Union and had a focus on domestic violence case.
“This is an ongoing travesty in our democracy, where persons are charged and left to languish in jail, in harsh, sometimes inhumane conditions, particularly now with the COVID-19 environment, without getting an opportunity to be heard and defend themselves in court,” the faculty’s Dean, Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, said.
She also noted that when the clinic delivered a presentation before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) last year, it noted that this country has the largest remand population in the region with individuals also waiting the longest to face trial.
“The system needs to change. The State, private attorneys and the courts all have a part to play in finding workable mechanisms to correct this injustice,” she said.
The group is also being represented by Gregory Delzin, Dianne Mano, Melissa Mano and Rafiya Karim, all of Trinity Chambers. The case has been assigned to Justice Carol Gobin, who is yet to set a date for the first hearing.