Johnathan Bruce, now 24 years old, was just a boy of 15 when he began his nine-year stint on remand as his trial for the murder of a schoolmate made its way through this country’s painfully slow judicial system.
Bruce, at the time a Form Five student at Waterloo Secondary, was preparing to write his CSEC exams, when he was arrested and charged for the stabbing death of Renaldo Dixon, 14, a Form Three student at the same school.
Earlier this week, Mr Bruce was acquitted of Dixon’s murder following a judge-alone trial presided over by Justice Geoffrey Henderson.
But even as Mr Bruce gets his first taste of freedom, returning to a world that has changed a lot over the years he spent in prison, the verdict in his case has evoked painful memories for the victim’s mother, Camille Taitt. She believes the judicial system has failed her.
Unfortunately, justice delayed is the rule rather than the exception in this country, and the families of Dixon and Bruce are not the only ones who have been affected by this major deficiency in T&T’s criminal justice system.
Like Camille Taitt, Pauline Lum Fai feels she was failed by the system, although the outcome for the two young men charged with the murder of her six-year-old son, Sean Luke, was different. Last September, Akeel Mitchell and Richard Chatoo were convicted of that murder, which had been committed more than 15 years earlier. Chatoo was 16 at the time, and Mitchell was just 13.
The common thread here was the inordinate length of time between the laying of charges and the delivery of a verdict.
These are just two cases of the many affected by the inferior quality of justice delivery in T&T.
There has been a great deal of talk about the need to bring about meaningful change at all levels of the system. In recent years, some incremental legislative and operational changes have been introduced that should have resulted in the speeding up of trials. However, too many people are still at the mercy of an inefficient criminal justice system.
All the major players—the police, the Office of the DPP, the judiciary and the prison system—are equally to blame for this unsatisfactory situation.
A major area of concern is the extraordinary length of time spent on remand in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. In too many cases, by the time the matter is concluded, the accused has already been in prison for a period longer than the sentence on conviction.
When a matter takes a long time to go to trial, the delivery of justice can further be hampered by problems such as evidence that goes missing and the faded recollection of witnesses.
Many lives are negatively affected by this situation, particularly the accused, the victims and their families, with ripple effects felt across society.
In this recent case, after nine years of waiting, the Bruce and Dixon families can only now get on with the challenging task of picking up the pieces of their lives and trying to move forward. That is not what justice should look like.