Criminal Appeal Bill
Two years ago when Government introduced the Preliminary Inquiry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill in the National Assembly, to make the holding of preliminary inquiries optional in appropriate cases in order to expedite the criminal law process, the Opposition accused Government of being “retrograde” and described the Bill as “un recul démocratique dangereux”.
One frustrated mind went as far as to suggest that the Bill was being introduced because of the case involving the murder of Vanessa Lagesse. Yet, when the Bill was being debated in the National Assembly, the Opposition chose to walk out of the Assembly under the lame pretext of the unconstitutionality of the Bill. The fact of the matter is that they had no credible arguments to offer against it.
Two years later, events have shown that nothing of the sort, being then qualified by the Opposition as “retrograde” or “recul démocratique dangereux”, has happened. It is now a recurrent feature of the criminal law justice system to refer cases of homicide to the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court without going through a preliminary enquiry. Some ten cases have already been decided on that fast-track basis.
There is nothing new in what we have just witnessed in relation to the Criminal Appeal Bill. The Bill disturbs: it is feared that Government is taking the right step to bring reform towards instituting a modern criminal justice system. This is what seems to irk the Opposition. The Criminal Appeal Bill is indeed coming to improve things in the administration of justice. After all, justice is dynamic and it has to evolve.
But what has prompted all the fuss created by the Opposition? The fact of the matter is that the Opposition, true to its opportunistic zeal, is under an illusion that it will attract votes from a particular group of people. The Bill should have been above party politics but all along there was a “sous entendu” during the debates of how a particular group would react. And this was also apparent from one speaker on the government side.
To add to the unnecessarily tense atmosphere, the public was reminded of late Sir Gaëtan Duval who ran the risk of being hanged on the fabricated evidence of a police witness. The very same people, who despised Sir Gaëtan, have since his demise developed a sudden and profound admiration for him. Yet no mention was made that the statement, which falsely incriminated Sir Gaëtan, was recorded at the residence of the then Prime Minister, Sir Anerood, leader of the 2000 Remake. As a result Sir Gaëtan was arrested and put into jail. Luckily for him, Sir Satcam Boolell was then the Attorney General, and he made sure, against all odds, that Sir Gaëtan was released as per his constitutional rights and be thus spared the trauma of languishing in jail for months.
The Criminal Appeal Bill is all about a fairer system of justice. People of this country want justice to be done and be seen to be done, a justice system with an inbuilt mechanism to ensure that the culprit is punished and the innocent not wrongfully convicted.
It is also the case that when the opponents of the Bill run out of arguments and ideas, they resort to insult. They have seen it fit to question the integrity of law officers responsible for legislative drafting by calling them “des vicieux embusqués”. We witnessed the same reprehensible conduct when the Illovo deal was being negotiated. The law officers who carried out their job in a most professional manner became the subject of bitter criticisms simply because their advice did not go in the interest of the sellers of Illovo.
In 1982, the then MMM government did not hesitate to amend section 114 of the Constitution to sack top civil servants and we know the consequences of such folly. Today when the independence of the civil servants have been taken away from them, it has become a favourite pastime of the Opposition to cast insults, threats, invectives against the concerned Civil Servants, knowing full well that these persons cannot defend themselves in public as they would have wished to do.
A judge of the Supreme Court went as far as to adversely comment on the Parliamentary Counsel. The present Parliamentary Counsel is a well-respected law officer who, in spite of all the hurdles she faces in terms of resources and a limited budget, is discharging her responsibilities to the highest of standards.
A Bill is the responsibility of Government and so is the timing for the tabling of the Bill. Government decides on the policy issues, and the Parliamentary Counsel drafts the Bill at the request of Government. It is a matter of regret that abuses and cheap insults that are unfairly circulated against those who are doing nothing more nothing less than their duty are not denounced, as they should be.
* Published in print edition on 27 July 2013