With each passing day the Andrea Bharatt kidnap/murder case is exposing for public viewing the cancerous condition of the criminal justice system. Yesterday, the Forensic Science Centre, a critical component of the system, joined the growing list of institutions now on public trial.
The finding of a second, privately-financed autopsy that Ms Bharatt died from blunt force trauma to the head challenges the credibility of the initial autopsy conducted by the facility. While we make no judgment about either autopsy, we are in no doubt about the devastating impact these conflicting autopsies will have on public confidence in the Centre’s operations as well as on a potential trial, assuming charges are laid. The future of this murder case may now rest on a third autopsy conducted under independent and professional supervision.
One agency to show some responsiveness to the public’s concerns is the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) which announced yesterday the opening of three investigations, including into the deaths of suspects Andrew Morris and Joel Balcon while in police custody. We commend the PCA for also taking up the issue of the alleged failure by police officers to “prosecute, tender evidence and attend court”. Presumably, this arises out of the report that many of the 70 charges against Balcon were dismissed due to the non-appearance of police officers in court.
The third investigation is into matters related to Saturday’s arrest of DSS founder Kerron “Preeze” Charles who had to seek medical treatment while in police custody.
While the PCA is to be commended for its responsiveness in these matters of intense public interest, we are cautioned by the fact that it had to close 365 cases last year due to, among other things, the failure of witnesses to come forward.
While both the PCA and the Commissioner of Police have recognised the need to engage the public on the issues associated with the Andrea Bharatt case, we are stunned by the invisibility of other high officeholders who carry substantial responsibility for the operations of the criminal justice system.
We point specifically to Chief Justice Ivor Archie who is responsible for ensuring the effective operation of the court system. By now, an accountable Chief Justice would have responded to the public outcry over Balcon’s rap sheet which threw the spotlight on the court’s perceived failure to protect the citizenry from a man on 70 charges of rape, kidnapping and theft. The CJ has had nothing to offer for the past week as the country consumed itself with anger over the role of the courts in allowing Balcon to be at large.
This issue is pushing a large segment of the population to the view that bail should be denied to persons charged with rape which would take T&T to a step beyond the Bail Amendment Act, 2019 which made rape a non-bailable for persons previously convicted of rape.
In this regard we commend the Law Association for recognising its responsibility to join the raging public debate and for clarifying its own position of a number of important issues. This is not a time for silence from those who act on our behalf.