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 More UNC laws than PNM

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Honeylu
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PostSubject: More UNC laws than PNM   Wed Nov 09, 2011 10:38 pm

More UNC laws than PNM
SEAN DOUGLAS Monday, September 4 2006

THE former UNC government brought 225 Bills to the House of Representatives in its six years in office from 1995 to 2001, while in an almost similar period, the PNM Government brought just 116 Bills.

It seems there were few aspects of life in Trinidad and Tobago that were not touched by laws brought by former UNC attorney-general Ramesh Maharaj. Maharaj brought laws to increase the rights of individuals, create a more democratic society, fight crime, improve justice, uplift the weakest in society, recognise advances in science and technology, and facilitate commerce.

The UNC sought to open up this society to greater democracy, transparency and accountability.

For example, the Judicial Review Act 2000 lets a person dissatisfied by the decision of a public body, ask for a review by the High Court. A person can apply if the body acted improperly under any of 15 headings including if it acted contrary to law, exceeded its jurisdiction, breached natural justice, abused power or acted in bad faith, or on any other ground he wishes to ask the court to consider.

The Freedom of Information Act 1999 gives the public a general right of access to the official documents of public authorities, especially regarding their operations and their policies, rules and practices affecting the public.

Greater personal accountability was demanded from public officials in the Integrity in Public Life Act 2000 which gave voice to the National Constitution’s imperative that all politicians, State company directors, top public servants, and judges/magistrates annually declare their income, assets and liabilities to the Integrity Commission which monitors them for irregularities that might suggest corruption. The Integrity Act was frustrated for several years by the PNM Government which repeatedly delayed in getting Parliament to approve the declaration form (already designed by Maharaj) until they finally relented to public pressure and complied.

By amending section 66 of the Constitution, the UNC in 2000 also gave life to the Joint Select Committees (JSCs) of Parliament which scrutinise the operations of public bodies such as Government Ministries. The JSCs have grilled the regional health authorities, Alutrint, Police Service, municipal corporations, and services commissions.

Then there was the Defamation Bill 2001 which never became law but which sought to update the law on libel and slander to keep pace with technology and meet the needs of a modern society to be informed.

There were Bills advocating equal rights for all persons and promoted the rights of the disadvantaged. This was seen in the Equal Opportunities Act 2000 which sought to ban discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, ethnicity, origin (including geographical origin), religion, marital status, and disability. However, the PNM got the High Court to declare the Act unconstitutional, prompting Maharaj to complain that the PNM has not removed the “offending” parts of the Act and brought back the main body of the legislation to Parliament.

To protect workers, the UNC brought the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to Parliament on four occasions respectively in 1998, 1999 and twice in 2001. It came to Parliament again under the PNM Government in 2003, and in 2004 when it was partially proclaimed.

Then there was the Orisa Marriage Act 1999, plus the Cohabitational Relationships Act 1997 to recognise the rights of persons living in common-law relationships. For the economically-disadvantaged, there was the Socially-displaced Persons Act, plus Acts to raise the old age pension and public assistance.

The UNC promoted both law enforcement and access to justice,

initiating the three Police Reform Bills (which altered the management of the police service and facilitated people’s complaints against errant officers) which were recently passed by the Government with Opposition support. The Justice Protection Act 2000 established a witness protection scheme at a time when trials like that of Dole Chadee saw many people afraid to testify.

The Sentencing Commission Act 2000 was passed to try to standardise court sentences and remove gaping disparities. The Act was proclaimed in November 2000 but has not been put into effect.

The Offences against the Person (Amendment)(Number 2) Act 2000 classed homicide into three categories of culpability. Special protection was given to law enforcement officers by defining “Murder 1” as the killing of policemen, prison officers, and judges/magistrates, plus jurors and court witnesses. Murder 1 also covers victims of hate crimes such as based on race or religion, persons killed by hitmen, by explosive devices, or by heinous/cruel/depraved methods.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1999 established the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board to pay compensation to crime victims. Despite the Act being proclaimed in November 2000, it is not in force.

Acts were passed to unclog the law courts and speed up the functioning of the judicial process. This includes an Act to introduce United States-styled plea bargaining, the Criminal Procedure (Plea Discussion and Plea Agreement)(No 2) Bill, 1998.

Aiding law enforcement was the Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) Bill 2000 which lets the police obtain a tissue sample from someone to test his DNA for use as evidence in a law-court such as to link him to the crime-scene. However, although assented to by the President, the DNA Bill remains unproclaimed.

Laws under the UNC took account of changing technology and helped Trinidad and Tobago stay abreast in the modern world. The Computer Misuse Act 2000 bans computer hacking (“unauthorised access, use or interference with a computer”) while the Electronic Transfer of Funds Crime 2000 penalises credit card fraud.

Moreso the laws made Trinidad and Tobago investor-friendly by complying with international standards on patent and copyright for which he brought a package of four Acts.

The UNC tried to bring special protection to children by a package of five Bills in 2000, but while these laws are still alive on the statute books, to date they have not been proclaimed.

Other UNC laws include the Dangerous Dogs Act 2000 (which was assented to, but never proclaimed), Human Tissue Transplant Bill (to permit organ transplants), Human Reproductive and Genetic Technologies Bill (to ban the cloning of humans), Anti-Personnel Landmines Act 2000, and Environmental Management Authority (EMA) Act 2000.

The PNM Government passed laws to simply implement its specific programmes as it went along, but which taken together seemed to lack an underlying evangelical zeal to open up the society and grant new individual rights. Very importantly, in 2006 the PNM passed the three Police Reform Bills originally drafted by the UNC regime to alter the management of the Police Service, and improve the investigation of public complaints against officers. The PNM passed the Kidnapping Act 2003 to tackle kidnapping-for-ransom. It penalises by a 25-year-imprisonment the seizure of a person for ransom or the demanding of ransom. Anyone caught in possession of paid ransom is liable to 15 years jail, while a person knowingly disclosing financial information for use in a kidnap-for-ransom is liable to five years jail.

Also passed was the Bail (Amendment) Act 2005 which denies bail to anyone charged under the Kidnapping Act 2003.

The PNM Government sought to pre-empt terrorism by the Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005. It passed the Offences Against the Person (Amendment) (Harassment) Bill 2004 which created a new broad offence of harassment.

The PNM passed legislation to increase the number of constituencies in Trinidad and Tobago, and to alter the boundaries of the electoral districts in Tobago in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections including “The Validation of the Fifth Report of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (Local Government) Bill 2005.”

To strengthen the business environment came the Fair Trading Act 2006 which establishes a Fair Trading Commission to ensure that commercial competition is not distorted, restricted or prevented in our economy. Many bills were passed to promote Caricom.

These include the Caribbean Community Bill 2004, Caribbean Community (Removal of Restrictions) Bill 2004, and Caricom-Cuba Trade and Economic Cooperation Bill 2004.

Underlying it all was the Caribbean Court of Justice Bill 2004 which validates the CCJ as the court that adjudicates on cases arising under the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).

http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,43712.html
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