The Legal Division of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) was created to deliver the necessary input and support to the Ministry in undertaking the transformation of the Criminal Justice System of Trinidad and Tobago. In that regard, the Division is designated to carry out the central functions of the Ministry which revolve around one of the key initiatives of the Official Policy Framework of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
- Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act 2011 - This Act seeks to repeal and replace the Indictable Offences (Preliminary Enquiry) Act, Chap. 12:01 and provide for a new system of pre-trial proceedings relating to indictable offences. The Act demonstrates clearly the commitment of the Ministry of Justice to overhaul the Criminal Justice System by essentially removing the endemic backlog associated with the conduct of preliminary enquiries. These enquiries have been the culprit of much delay in the trial of indictable matters, resulting in protracted pre-trial waiting times and consequent detriments to an overburdened justice system, victims, witnesses, accused persons and their families.
The Act introduces an entirely new pre-trial system for serious criminal matters that would drastically reduce the pre-trial waiting time from an average of six (6) years to less than one (1) year. This will be accomplished by a robust case management system that focuses on timelines and sanctions for delay. Of great significance is the pre-trial hearing itself, which is envisaged to last minutes as opposed to days, months or years, as the new system of committal is purely paper based and no witnesses will be required to give evidence.
In December 2011, the Act was passed in both the Upper and Lower Houses of the Parliament and is the first piece of legislation emanating from the Ministry of Justice. It is currently awaiting Proclamation by His Excellency the President. The Minister of Justice gave the undertaking that such a significant reform initiative would not be in effect until the stakeholder agencies are in a state of readiness to implement the requirements of the Act. The Legal Division is currently chairing a Sub-Committee that has been set up by the Judiciary to address the implementation of this significant legislation.
- Administration of Justice (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) Act, 2011 – This Act is just one of the Ministry’s major initiatives to transform and modernise the Criminal Justice System of Trinidad and Tobago. The primary purpose of this legislation is the establishment of an improved a legal and administrative framework within which forensic DNA evidence can be used in the investigation and prosecution of criminal matters.
With this Act, the Ministry intends to finally break the cycle of non-implementation and under-utilisation of DNA technology and ensure its efficacy against crime and criminality. The strategic deficiencies that existed in the previous legislation were addressed from a practical standpoint towards ensuring that this new Act, first and foremost, kicks in immediately upon its passage and that the Criminal Justice System yields nothing but the maximum benefit from this technology.
As at February 2012, the Act was passed in both the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament. The Ministry of Justice has since embarked upon the process to establishing a DNA Implementation Committee comprised of such key stakeholders as the Ministry of National Security, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Force (TTPS) and the Office of the Attorney General towards fast-tracking the successful implementation of this crucial piece of criminal justice legislation.
- The Legal Aid and Advice (Amendment) Bill, 2011 -This amendment Bill also introduces an entirely new system to be known as the Duty Counsel Scheme. Under this Scheme, mechanisms will be put in place whereby immediate access to legal representation and advice will be provided to minors from the moment they are detained on suspicion of having committed any criminal offence. The same facility will be made available to adult offenders detained on suspicion of having committed certain indictable offences. This change will ensure that legal representation is available to persons from the very beginning of the criminal justice process.
Amendments are also being proposed to the First Schedule of the Act which deals with fees and expenses to be paid to Attorneys at Law. The present Schedule provides specifically for an increase in the quantum of fees payable by the Director of the Legal Aid and Advisory Authority on the written authority of a Court of Summary Jurisdiction or of a presiding Judge. These proposed increases are being made in light of the ever increasing difficulty in retaining Attorneys at Law on legal aid panels, willing to be assigned to matters, particularly at the High Courts, due to the existing fee structure.
While the provision of free legal assistance already exists in this country for those unable to pay for legal assistance, the outmoded provisions of the existing Legal Aid and Advice Act, Chapter 7:07 essentially negates the realisation of this benefit for those citizens of Trinidad and Tobago in need of such a service. These and other amendments proposed by this Bill are an immediate response to problems plaguing the Criminal Justice System and are designed to modernise the existing legislation to ensure that access to legal aid is made available to those persons who would not be able to afford legal representation and have access to the court system.
In December 2011, the Bill was passed in the Upper House of the Parliament and is scheduled to be debated in the Lower House shortly.
- Administration of Justice (Electronic Monitoring) Bill, 2011- This Bill seeks to make provision for the implementation of a system of electronic monitoring and represents one of the major initiatives being implemented to transform and modernise the Criminal Justice System. The Bill further seeks to implement electronic monitoring at different stages of the Criminal Justice System, as well as to make it a condition of a protection order issued under the Domestic Violence Act.
It will overhaul the penal system by introducing a new sentencing option which would have the effect of reducing prison overcrowding and create a more effective prisoner management system. Electronic monitoring will aid in the rehabilitation of offenders and contribute to the reduction of recidivism. It seeks to assist in the transition from a retributive approach to justice to one that is restorative.
Electronic monitoring, as part of wide ranging reforms, will complement the introduction of a parole system; promote public safety through the effective monitoring and supervising of offenders; provide opportunities for offender rehabilitation and extend the range of sentences available to the Courts.
- Policy to amend the existing Prison Rules of Trinidad and Tobago (Chap. 11 No 7);
- A Parole Proposal for Trinidad and Tobago.
- Offender Management Policy;
- Policy on the Jury System in Trinidad and Tobago;
- Policy to amend the Police Complaints Authority Act, Chap. 15:05.
- Policy to amend the Sexual Offences Act, Chap. 11:28
- Establishing a Drug Treatment Court;
- Establishment of a framework for the Sentencing Commission in Trinidad and Tobago;
- Initial recommendations for regulations to govern the Immigration Detention Centre;
- Re-introduction of the Doctrine of Recent Complaint – Exploring the Legal Parameters;
- Amendment to the Notice of Alibi rule in criminal matters;
- Improvements to the current practice of Plea Bargaining with a view to effective use;
- Report for the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) on criminal justice matters;
- Juvenile Residential Facility; and
- Inter-Ministerial Task Force to Co-ordinate Efforts to Reclaim Neighbourhoods: Program Report – to introduce projects geared towards youth in the community.
- USAID- is interested in providing assistance and support in relation to such initiatives undertaken by the Ministry;
- UNICEF- is interested in providing assistance and support in relation to the Juvenile Justice Initiatives of the MOJ;
- Prison Radio Initiative – is a collaborative effort between the MOJ and the Ministry of National Security geared towards the introduction of Prison Radio into the prisons of T&T as a rehabilitative tool;
- New facility for Female Juvenile Offenders – to better satisfy T&T requirements under the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child through the provision of suitable accommodation for female offenders currently housed at the Women’s Prison, Golden Grove and elsewhere;
- Protection of vulnerable migrants.
- The Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), International Law and Human Rights Unit, Office of the Attorney General. Members of the HRCC have a critical role to play in compiling our Country’s Universal Periodic Review Submission as well as all other Human Rights Country Reports;
- The Justice Sector Process and Technology Sub-Committee of the Judiciary – comprised of criminal justice stakeholders who must work together to improve the justice system through technology and better processes;
- The Inter-Ministerial Task force to Coordinate the Interventions to support the efforts to reclaim our neighbourhoods;
- The National Consultative Committee (NCC) on Migration and Development, Intra - ACP Migration Facility, Ministry of National Security. The Ministry of Justice is no longer a part of the NCC as the Immigration Detention Centre was removed from under our jurisdiction.