File - Remand Yard prisoners are served lunch at the Golden Grove Prison, Arouca. (Image: ROBERTO CODALLO)

The UWI’s Faculty of Law International Human Rights Clinic recently moved to seek constitutional redress for prisoners languishing on remand in this country’s prison system, by initiating landmark litigation on Friday 20 November 2020.

An official statement from the The UWI St. Augustine Campus explains that the motion was filed as part of the Law Faculty’s EU-funded project, “Addressing Human Rights Abuses of Remand Prisoners with Special Emphasis on Domestic Violence Murder Cases”.

“The case, Anthony Albert et al v The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago, seeks to effect change in the alleged inhumane treatment of persons detained on remand,” the release explains.  “Such persons are still innocent in the eyes of the law and kept waiting on remand for inordinate periods—in some cases over 18 years—for their trials to be heard.”

The statement goes on to report:

“The Faculty invited the firm Trinity Chambers to partner with it on this historic litigation. Senior advocate Gregory Delzin, and Dean of the Faculty and Project Lead, Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, will present the case. The advocates will seek declarations that the claimants’ rights (i) not to be deprived of liberty except by due process of law, (ii) to protection of the law and (iii) right to trial within a reasonable time under sections 4(a) and 4(b) of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, have been and continue to be violated.”

The statement adds:

“It will also be contended that this extreme delay on remand constitutes arbitrary detention or imprisonment; and/or the imposition of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment; and/or breach of the right to private and family life contrary to the rights and freedoms enshrined under sections 4(c), 5(2)(a) and 5(2)(b) of the Constitution. The Claimants Anthony Albert, Bruce Henry, Ramdaye Ramlal, Kareem Ramlal, Hyacinth Loubon, Sasha Seepersad and Malaika St. Louis, are all presently incarcerated at the Golden Grove Prison, Arouca.”

Professor Antoine highlighted the need for awareness of this 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 this COVID-19 environment, without getting an opportunity to be heard and defend themselves in court,” she says in the release.

“There have been several instances in the country where persons who remained on remand in prison for many years were subsequently found to be innocent,” she added.

Professor Antoine observes that a 2019 hearing presented by the Faculty at the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, noted that Trinidad and Tobago has the highest number of persons on remand in the region, as well as for the longest periods.

“The system needs to change,” she asserts. “State, private attorneys and the courts, all have a part to play in finding workable mechanisms to correct this injustice.”

Professor Antoine recalls that the 2019 IACHR hearing, former Commissioner of Prisons, Gerard Wilson, also lamented the situation, stating that it made the job of prison officers more difficult.

“The Anthony Albert et al case and the project also highlight the heartrending plight of women and girl victims of domestic violence awaiting trial on remand, without bail,” Professor Antoine notes.  “These persons were charged for the murder of their partners, which suggests serious issues of gender inequity in the criminal justice system.”

The release reports that the human rights project also will undertake public education and advocacy initiatives to raise awareness of the inhumane conditions of remand, and bolster public and institutional support for remandees.  This will be done through an ongoing public education campaign, and direct intervention via remedial work in the prisons and with persons freed from prison, in partnership with the Cropper Foundation.

“Furthermore, the project facilitates the aim of the Faculty’s International Human Rights Clinic to address human rights issues in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider region, through a dynamic legal education and outreach model which prioritises empirical research, activist lawyering and collaboration with practicing attorneys and NGOs,” Professor Antoine points out.

Instructing attorneys Melissa Mano, Rafiya Karim, Joseph Cowles, and junior advocate Dianne Mano are joined in the case.  UWI Law graduates Ayanna Norville, Terry-Ann Roy and Omari Thompson—researchers from the Faculty’s Human Rights Clinic—are assisting with research in the matter.

Those seeking more information on the Faculty’s EU-funded project, “Addressing Human Rights Abuses of Remand Prisoners with Special Emphasis on Domestic Violence Murder Cases”, can email [email protected], or the Faculty of Law at [email protected]