Addresing the Law and Order Issue head-on 

Navin Ramgoolam is the most popular Prime Minister this country has seen since sir Seewoosagur. Under his leadership, Mauritius has experienced a steady growth since the last five years; it has overcome the global financial crisis contrary to the predictions of the IMF and World Bank. Its budget deficit and rate of inflation is an all time low and its index of social justice has significantly increased. In spite of all the financial difficulties, it has managed to maintain subsidy on commodities that matter to the average Mauritian earner and pump money in a free health and education system. There is a danger though that Navin Ramgoolam runs the risk of losing his grip on the forthcoming elections, if the focus is not shifted to issues which worry the Mauritian voter. The question of law and order must be high on his priority list. It should be tackled head-on. New York shows that it is possible to reduce crime significantly. Over the past 20 years crime in New York has fallen by 80%, thanks to proactive community-based policing and the intelligent use of new technologies and crime data. There is no reason the same success story cannot be repeated in Mauritius.

The willingness of government to fight crime and other anti-social behaviour is not in doubt but at the same time we should not be naive since today there is no such thing as mainstream or traditional crime. Crime today is organised and transnational in nature. Criminals have the financial and other means to stay ahead of the law in pursuit of criminal activities.

The next government should seriously encourage the police authorities to have recourse to new investigative techniques including the interception of communication. These do indeed constitute an intrusion into an individual privacy but it has passed the constitutional test in many jurisdictions where the law makes provision for such investigative tool to be resorted to under the supervision of a Judge.

It is also high time that the next government introduces an independent law enforcement agency for recovery of proceeds of crime in both conviction and non-conviction based forfeiture. The present regime is limited to drug cases following a conviction. Its rate of success has been rather abysmal due to the limited scope of its powers. The investigative powers of a new agency should extend to all crimes.

The legal framework will also have to provide for restraints and forfeiture of proceeds of crimes in both conviction and non-conviction based forfeiture. The proceeds of crime should extend to assets held by a suspect or another person to whom a gift has been made by the suspect. However the benefit of extending the regime to non-conviction based regime would enable the law enforcer to ensure in cases like Air Mauritius, where two of the accused were found not to be fit to stand trial or in relation to the case of Mauritius Commercial Bank where a conviction has not been possible, that the ill-gotten money or other assets are nevertheless recoverable. The onus is on the defendant to establish on a balance of probabilities that the assets in dispute have an innocent source.

In the case of R v Benjafield 2001 Cr App R 89, Lord Woolf explains the rationale: Those at whom legislation is aimed whether repeat offenders or drug trafficker are usually adept at concealing their profits and unless they are called upon to explain the source of their assets, it will be difficult and almost impossible to identify the proceeds of their crimes… it is also clear that while in the majority of situation it will be difficult for the prosecution to establish that any particular assets of a defendant were proceeds of crime it will be far easier for a defendant to establish on a balance of probabilities that the assets in dispute have an innocent source.”

The reform of the police has already started and the message should be one of confidence in the force. The police ought to be told that they should bother less with bureaucracy and concentrate more on fighting crime. Think about the long hours that victims of crime are subjected to at police stations when reporting a crime.

First, there is a declaration and the famous OB number is allocated to the declaration. Then a file is open and referred to another officer who will enquire. The whole process of recording on and on unnecessary details is triggered, forgetting the most crucial things like the evidence that will be required for court purposes. This is followed by a resume after all statements are recorded. A reconstruction may take place at some other date and further statements required. Finally after a year or two the matter is referred to court and a whole chapter of postponements of the trial is about to be opened up.

The victim of crime gets a poor deal with the criminal justice system. He has little or no confidence in the system. He is not compensated for the prejudice suffered unless he initiates civil proceedings and incurs considerable expenses. The crime victim wants to hear measures that will rebuild his confidence in the criminal justice system so that people know that justice is on the side of victims. This is the message they want to hear from Navin Ramgoolam.


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