Over 200 prisoners at the Remand Yard in Golden Grove are expected to embark on a hunger strike today as part of a silent protest against what they claim is the state’s failure to address issues affecting them.
In a letter sent to the President, Prime Minister, Attorney General, Justice Minister, Chief Justice, DPP, Opposition Leader, the Law Association and Amnesty International last week – the inmates requested a meeting to discuss matters plaguing the judicial system.
However, they said with no response forthcoming, the strike will continue for a period of 28 days.
The prisoners said the length of time some of them have spent awaiting trial was equal to a jail term.
Further to this, they added that a failure to provide adequate resources to the legal aid system was also an impediment to ensuring they were treated fairly.
At present, there are approximately 445 persons awaiting a trial at the facility – out of which 282 persons have been incarcerated for between three to five years and are still without a court date.
Claiming that “constant neglect by the State to address these issues amount to punishment and an abuse of the process of law,” the inmates wrote, “We are of the view that it is better to starve ourselves to death than allow the justice system to continue to inflict torture, pain and neglect upon us.”
Standing in solidarity with the prisoners are their families who are also expected to gather in Port-of- Spain and San Fernando today in a simultaneous show of support as they too urge the authorities to intervene in the matter.
Among the suggestions put forward by the inmates on ensuring that justice is served in a timely manner were a review of the cases by the DPP; improving the delivery and processing of paperwork from the Magistrates’ Court to the High Court; providing adequate funds to the Legal Aid Department so lawyers can be appointed to help the less fortunate who cannot afford an attorney; introducing night court as a way to reduce the backlog of cases that currently exist.
Responding to the issue, Justice Minister Herbert Volney said his ministry was moving to deal with the problem in a holistic way.
He revealed that the final bill regarding preliminary inquiries was expected to go before Cabinet’s Legislative Review Committee at its next meeting – and could cut the time from charge to trial by several years. Volney said this would also provide persons whose matters are stuck at the Magistrates’ Court, “an opportunity to go directly to the High Court for an assessment of their case.”
Promising to bring the problem to the attention of the Chief Justice, Volney said the new procedure would “free up the Magistrate’s Court by as much as 45 percent to allow magistrates time to deal directly with trials.”