Court Goes to Death Row

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By Prior Beharry

JUSTICE Frank Seepersad is adamant that he must see the conditions that exist behind the prison walls including on death row.

He made the ruling on Thursday morning in a case brought by former death row inmate Ronald Bisnath.

Bisnath, of Crown Trace, Enterprise, was sentenced to hang in 2014 for the murder of 13-year-old Parmanand “Boyo” Persad in 2006. Persad’s body was found in a partially built Chaguanas house in 2006.

In March, Justice Seepersad had ruled that Bisnath be removed from his condemned cell and be re-sentenced by another judge.

But, Justice Seepersad said he wanted to visit death row at the Port of Spain State prison.

In a ruling in the Port of Spain High Court on Thursday, Seepersad said he was informed in a letter on Wednesday by acting Prisons Commissioner Deopersad Ramoutar that he sought the guidance of the Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds.

Ramoutar wrote, “The Court Order has indicated a specific ruling in favour of the Claimant and the next hearing is to determine cost. It is being asked for clarity, given that a ruling has been made, is it purposeful anymore for an on-site visitation by the Court?

“Additionally, can the request for media personnel be made in writing and if any, preferred person or persons. It should be noted that if such a visit is to take place, the Honourable Mr. Justice Frank Seepersad personal security will be sufficiently catered for by the Prison personnel staff…”

Justice Seepersad said he was alarmed by the contents of the letter.

He said the independence of the Judiciary and the doctrine of the separation of powers were pivotal aspects of a functioning democracy and he would fearlessly defend those principles as well as the integrity and impartiality of his office.

Justice Seepersad said, “If the contents of the letter are accurate and same was issued pursuant to the directions of a member of the Executive, such a circumstance signals that there maybe  an impending constitutional crisis and/or an overt attempt by a member of the Executive to interfere with Judicial independence and the exercise of Judicial discretion and authority.

“It is unfathomable that any politician or member of Executive would have the temerity to challenge the efficacy of  an order issued by the  Court, in an unresolved constitutional claim, where the Attorney General is the substantive Respondent.”

He added, “This attempt at interference must be condemned and will not be condoned.”

Justice Seepersad said the letter was premised upon a lack of appreciation of the claim before the court.

He said, “This Court, in the exercise of its judicial discretion and without objection from the attorneys at law representing the Attorney General, determined that it was necessary to visit the prison so as to ascertain, the current conditions on death row as well as the conditions in the area where the convicted/applicant is now being kept. Such a comparative assessment would assist the Court in its quantification of damages, if, at all, damages are warranted.”

Justice Seepersad said, “The Court is compelled to remind the relevant parties that pursuant to Rule 14 of the Prisons Rules, a judge is an ex-officio official visitor and in accordance with Rule 11, an official visitor may attend any prison, at any time and for any reason.”

He said, “The Minister of National Security and/or the acting Commissioner of Prisons must also be reminded that they do not exercise any appellate jurisdiction over judges and the enquiry as to whether the site visit is ‘purposeful’ is not only inappropriate but it disregards defined constitutional boundaries and displays a disturbing lack of appreciation as to the limits of their jurisdictional remit.”

Justice Seepersad said, “It must not be forgotten that the scales of justice must be evenly balanced and Judges, as the guardians of the Constitution, must freely and fairly interpret and apply the law as they steadfastly protect the constitutional rights of all citizens, from the common man, the CEO, to the convict.”

He said the last prison visit by the court was conducted by Justice Carol Gobin in 2007.

Justice Seepersad said, “This Court is therefore resolute in its view that it must see for itself the current scenario which exists behind the prison walls.”

He then adjourned the court to 10.30 am at the State Prison on Frederick Street in Port of Spain.



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