Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 31st 2014 Contents A26
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt August 31, 2014
Sometimes in order to pre-
serve what we have, we
have to go back and back
and back. This is what I've
learned from Naipaul.
"I can give you that historical
bird's eye view. But I cannot
really explain the mystery of ...
inheritance. Most of us know the
parents or grandparents we come
from. But we go back and back,
forever; we go back all of us to
the very beginning; in our blood
and bone and brain we carry the
memories of thousands of beings
... We cannot understand all the
traits we have inherited. Some-
times we can be strangers to
What does this mean to us this
Independence? Are we strangers
to ourselves? What does your
country mean to you? What can
it, to a new world people like
One reviewer of Naipaul offered
"With this passage Mr Naipaul
announces what he's about: an
archeology of the colonial
impulse, the thing that spun
Columbus, Raleigh and countless
others out of their easy chairs
into the great dark unknown, on
missions of discovery to the New
World. Partly it was the myth of
El Dorado, the city of gold that
Raleigh and Columbus never
found and the quest for which
was partly responsible for ruining
both of them. Partly it was a
certain madness and self-decep-
tion' that permitted these men to
cause and endure horrendous
suffering, even when it was
apparent that they'd mischarted
the course. But beneath these
forces, Mr Naipaul writes, lay the
simple urge of these men to cre-
ate themselves anew."
The reviewer was bang on.
What do you feel as a citizen
of these islands, this Independ-
I'm not talking about your
view about Keith or Kamla, the
Constitution or crime. All of this
matters, yes, but only in the con-
text of your identity, your feeling
about this land of ours.
I have consistently bemoaned
our lack of ideology, or issues-
based politics, our creaky institu-
tions and spectacular failure,
despite our wealth, to move
towards "first world" ideals of
health, education or employment.
But I also know the other side.
Our people who stood up for
democracy in 1990. Our people
who are wounded, felled, mur-
dered and messed up by gangs,
dependency, drugs, neglect, and
lawlessness still vote peaceably in
race-fired elections. Our people
who have a massive four-day
festival celebrating the intertwin-
ing of races and remnants of old
We have to go into our sub-
conscious and think of what we
feel rather than what we see.
On anniversaries such as these
I feel a queer mixture of pride,
loss and gratitude to these
islands which have been home to
me since I was a child. The blast
of humid ocean breeze when the
aircraft doors opened and I clat-
tered down the steps into the
indigo bronze dusk with my
mother, brother and sister was a
heart-racing sense of wonder,
possibility. I hadn't heard then of
Sam Selvon, or VS Naipaul or
Derek Walcott, or CLR James. I
had only ever known India, but
later I saw, through their books,
what I felt.
My father's familiar face greet-
ed us. His smile whiter with
Tobago sea sun blast, strange
without his Indian Army uni-
form, eyes gleaming with a sense
A former Indian army officer
who emigrated here to work as
chief engineer on the Tobago
highway in the late 70s, he
recalls his enduring feeling for
these islands. " I came with a
small attaché, holding my pass-
port, work permit, some precious
US dollars, a letter of appoint-
ment to the Ministry of Works in
Tobago. With that in my hand as
I was descending the steps of the
aircraft, I felt a strong island
breeze, my briefcase opened---
scattering everything. It was
night time. There was a person
ahead of me. He said to every-
one: Wait. This is my brother.'
He was an Afro-Trinidadian. He
ran down the stairs, retrieved
everything for me and disap-
Sarah Beckett, a European,
came here also in the 70s. She
was soon on her own with three
small children. She says of this
place: "I was lucky. I met world-
class painters encouraging me on
this small island almost from the
"Trinidad formed me. It's the
contradictory nature of the coun-
try. The physical beauty, the
light, the birdsong, the dumps
that will not be landfills. It won't
go away. It's fun, volatile, yet
brutal, awful, yet lovely, and
forces you to pay your dues.
"Here on a metaphysical level
you live close to the randomness
of existence. Things don't work.
There is no plan. Everyone says
God willing' and relaxes. This is
engrained in the national tem-
perament. There are no plans like
European countries. People don't
work when it's raining; the
plumbing or electricity goes.
"Things don't work and that is
enraging, but it all teaches you to
live in the present. It teaches you
a sense of possibility, so very
often we say: Let's try a ting,'
let's see if you can make this or
that work. This random, flying-
close-to-the-sun way of living
seduces people. Like some spell.
It allows people to breathe and
define and redefine ourselves."
Today I want to pay tribute to
my adopted land. It's frustrating
at times, but always beloved. It's
cast a spell on me. Happy Inde-
pendence Day, T&T.
Two round voting? Love it
or loathe it, Kamla's Gov-
ernment is ready to push
through radical change when it
wants to---just a couple of
weeks, bounce, and home.
So what's next? In last week-
end's MORI poll, 86 per cent of
the smallish sample put crime
and policing as a top-line issue,
way ahead of Constitution
reform, which scored just 17 per
If it's time for more fast-track
changes, criminal justice reform
would be a strong starter.
"We simply cannot carry on
the way we are going," says
Chief Justice Ivor Archie. Along
with other remodelling, he wants
to abolish the jury system, seen
by many as a cornerstone of the
law since England's King John
signed the Magna Carta, not
quite 800 years ago.
He called for an end to jury
trials almost 12 months ago, at
last September's law term open-
ing. That change would not, he
argues, need a special majority.
The Constitution simply upholds
the right to a fair trial.
Juries, he argues, slow the
pace and clog the courts. And
clogged they are. Last year, there
were 406 murders. More than
500 jailed murder suspects await
trial. There are just ten judges
for criminal cases. Trials last
weeks, months---sometimes up
to a year. Do the math.
Belize in 2011, abolished juries
for murder cases and some other
trials. Prime Minister Dean Bar-
row---himself a lawyer---argued
that for gangsters, buying or
intimidating jurors was "the eas-
iest thing in the world."
In the Turks and Caicos
Islands, the big issue is not
murder, but white-collar crime.
A 2009 inquiry by Sir Robin
Auld, a British former appeal
court judge, found a "high prob-
ability of systemic corruption,"
and a "Hollywood lifestyle" from
the premier, Michael Misick. In
line with Sir Robin's recommen-
dations, the British governor in
2010 introduced a procedure for
trial without jury.
Misick was extradited from
Brazil in January. With four for-
mer cabinet ministers he faces a
corruption trial, set for Decem-
ber 1. In this tiny community, he
still has enthusiastic support; the
7,377 voters narrowly re-elected
his Progressive National Party in
2012. His brother Washington is
The British special prosecutor
Helen Garlick says it would be
"very, very difficult" to find an
impartial jury. Misick will face a
no-jury trial. His supporters
complain that a colonial oppres-
sor is trampling on his civil
India, South Africa and many
other Asian and African Com-
monwealth countries long ago
abolished jury trials. In Northern
Ireland, judge-only Diplock
courts tried alleged terrorists
from 1973 to 2007.
An 18th-century English judge,
Sir William Blackstone, called
trial by jury the "principal bul-
wark of our liberties." Caribbean
legal systems have deep English
roots. Judges rule on points of
law. Jurors weigh evidence and
deliver the verdict.
But weighing facts needs more
than a sense of smell. A trial
judge must explain fine legal
points which graduate law stu-
dents find it hard to grasp.
Calling the count is hard
enough in a routine stabbing;
with complex financial fraud, it
is a serious challenge even for
Many educated professionals
are exempt from jury service.
Archie has concerns about the
"functional literacy" of the
remaining pool. He talks of a
murder case where a jury fore-
man misunderstood the word
"unanimous," and mistakenly
reported a guilty verdict; a presi-
dential pardon was needed.
With a lively gossip network
and active media, it can be hard
to find unbiased jurors; intimi-
dation is another danger. In the
1996 Dole Chadee murder trial,
the defence challenged 205
potential jurors. Substitutes were
pulled from the Chaguaramas
No-jury trials place the full
weight of scrutiny on the judge,
who has to decide factual as well
as legal points. In a Belize mur-
der trial last month, one key
witness had been shot dead a
year after the killing, but left
written testimony. Another---
accused by the defendant of
being the real culprit---was mur-
dered a month before the trial.
Based on the available evidence,
the judge decided not to convict.
The victim's family was devas-
tated. That call would previously
have been the jury's.
In non-jury trials, judges will
be exposed to accusations of
bias and prejudice. Indeed, rul-
ings can be controversial even
within a jury system. Remember
But unlike jurors, judges must
present reasons for their rulings.
The Brad Boyce ruling was even-
tually reversed by the Privy
Judges need not work alone. In
some legal systems, lay assessors
sit alongside, willing and able to
advise, take issue where neces-
sary, and stand their ground. In
some cases, they provide useful
medical, accounting or other
expertise. We don't have to look
too far: this country's Industrial
Court works more or less on
"Abolition of jury trials would
not be a cure-all," says Archie.
He argues that it should go
hand-in-hand with a structured
plea bargaining system and
reform of procedural rules.
There's a strong case for a swift
and structured consultation, fol-
lowed by well-drafted reforms.
CREATING OURSELVES ANEW
JURY SYSTEM: TIME FOR A VERDICT?
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