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Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi

The Prison Service has done its part to facilitate the proposed move to release some non-violent inmates due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a status hearing of a lawsuit brought by the Office of the Attorney General to help facilitate the process yesterday, High Court Judge Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds was informed that prison officials had abided by her previous order to provide a series of lists of prisoners who may be eligible under the scheme.

The lists were sent to the Registrar of the High Court, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, for their feedback before the process of determining the appropriate methods required to secure the releases take place. Another hearing is scheduled for Saturday via video conferencing.

When the proposal was announced by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley last week, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi suggested that approximately 400 prisoners could benefit.

The measure mainly affects adults and children who have been convicted of summary and indictable offences and were sentenced to under a year in prison or have less than a year remaining on a higher sentence.

Persons who have not been convicted of such offences, but who were remanded because they were unable to access the bail initially set for them are also included.

It will not apply to persons convicted of or on remand for a series of scheduled offences which carry sentences of over ten years in prison. Such offences include those under the Anti-Gang Act, Offences Against the Person Act, Dangerous Drugs Act, Kidnapping Act, Sexual Offences Act, Anti-Terrorism Act, Trafficking in Persons Act and the Firearms Act.

In the litigation, the AG’s Office has suggested that the releases of convicted persons could be facilitated through remissions by prison officials and the commutation of sentences by President Paula Mae-Weekes, under her power of pardon prescribed under Section 87 and 89 of the Constitution.

Those on bail will have to seek the variations under the Bail Act in light of the current national health situation.

While the AG’s Office suggested that persons who qualify based on its definitions should be facilitated, it noted that some can still be excluded nonetheless.

“As the exercise under consideration involves Judicial discretion and Presidential discretion, any other charge or offence not listed in the schedule may be excluded due to the independent assessment of the violent and/or dangerous nature of the matters involved in any case.

Accordingly, the assessment of risk and need for public protection including victim protection will always remain in central focus,” a recent release from the AG’s Office stated.

The AG’s Office is being represented by Fyard Hosein, SC, Ravi Rajcoomar, Tenille Ramkissoon, Jerome Rajcoomar, Aadam Hosein and Ryan Grant. Attorney Netram Kowlessar represented the Prisons Commissioner, while John Heath represented the High Court Registrar. The T&T Police Service (TTPS) was represented by its Head of Legal Christian Chandler, while Sharlene Jaggernauth represented the Children’s Authority.