Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC

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Former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj is convinced Government must return to the death penalty to deal with violent crimes such as murders.

During his tenure as Attorney General in 1999 drug lord, Dole Chadee and eight other members of his gang were hanged.

The kidnapping and murder of 23-year-old Andrea Bharatt has once again raised the debate about how the latest spate of abductions and murders can be solved.

“During the time I served as Attorney General, one of the main challenges I had to face in the fight against serious crimes was where Trinidad and Tobago was branded as the Wild West. I was to be able to implement the laws to carry out the death penalty.

“As the Attorney General at the time I knew that it was necessary for the state to send a signal to the criminal elements in the country that if they committed the crime they would be detected and when they are detected they would be prosecuted and be convicted and the sentence if they committed murder, the death penalty would be carried out,” Maharaj said.

He said it was in that context he carried out a strategic plan to establish a case management unit in the office of the Attorney General and a unit in the Ministry of National Security. He also worked with the then Chief Justice to establish systems for persons charged with murder to have their cases expedited.

After the executions were carried out in 1999, Maharaj said they then assessed whether the death penalty had any impact on the reduction of crime and they found it had an impact as it caused the murder rate to go down.

Maharaj said unfortunately since he left office it does not seem as though that strategic plan has been implemented. He thinks that it is important that the criminal elements be sent a signal that if they commit serious crimes, they would be prosecuted, convicted, and they would meet the punishment of the law.

He added that his original plan could also be used for other serious crimes.

“One of the important weapons to fight crime is for the criminals to know if they commit the crime they will be caught, they will be punished and they will have to spend the time. If there is a system and people are committing crimes and even if they are not detected, they are not prosecuted and not punished, then the law does not serve the purpose. You may need to have in these modern times, strategic plans with the court system to ensure that there is due process of law.”

When asked why he thinks the death penalty has not been used in the last 20 years since the last executions were carried out, Maharaj said there has not been any strategic plan by successive governments.

“I think the problem of non-implementation of the death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago is that there is no strategic plan by the governments over the years in carrying out the death penalty,” he said.

“It needs a lot of hard work, it needs a lot of monitoring, it needs a lot of coordination, but it can be done. I think that the population of Trinidad and Tobago believes that the death penalty will assist in reducing crime. But it is not everyone who is convicted of murder may get the death penalty because there may be different circumstances.”