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LALIT Program - Critical of the Unfair Judicial System

14.10.2019

Poor people are very angry against our judicial system. This is true in Mauritius and Rodrigues. People see an inequality of social classes in a system which is supposed to bring equal justice. So, what people see is a two-tier justice system which benefits only the higher social classes. This unequal justice system, still active today, dates back to the colonial period. Its pervasive effects were only mitigated when the Mauritian working class was strong, at one point in time in our history in the late 1970s and early 80s. We only have to have a quick look at our current prisoners to see this inequality of social classes. Bosses and CEOs, for example, always end up seeking admission in private health institutions when arrested, while poor people are locked up for lack of bail money. Rich people pay for good lawyers and end up being found not guilty, or even if found guilty end up with minimum sentences. Poor people unable to afford expensive criminal lawyers, end up found guilty even when innocent, and with heavier sentences. If they get a fine and cannot pay it, working people end up incarcerated.


According to the last official statistics of 2013, 92% of people were remanded to custody due to the only fact that they were unable to pay their fines – that were less than Rs.25,000. A staggering 78% of these were in prison because they were unable to pay fines of Rs.5,000 and less. So, for minor offenses, people are being incarcerated, just because of their social class. Of 3,277 drug-related convictions, 77% concerned mere marijuana-related charges. Remember marijuana used to be perfectly legal in Mauritius, and will soon again be a legal substance! At lower courts level, 80% convictions concerned road traffic offences.  As at the 1 July 2019, of 2,815 inmates, 48.7% of them were remand prisoners, that is, in prison because they were unable to pay bail. On the other hand, rich people who can afford bail are not remanded to prison. And even if they pay wages late, or cheat on piece-rates, or worse still, just shut down their firm without even paying for work already done, meanwhile walk free.


 Over the past 20 years, when the social crisis has deepened due to precarious employment, a housing crisis that causes families to implode, and young people in the country are unable to stabilize their live, the politics of Ramgoolam-Jugnauth-Duval-Berenger has been to rely on repressive laws, implemented by police and the judiciary and then prison officers, instead of finding a meaningful political solution to mitigate the impact of economic and social  uncertainties on the poorer social classes and on the working class. Better still, creating jobs in production and housing for all would address the problem at its root. 


 Our Demands


 The right to a lawyer as from arrest


Currently, people are being hauled in by the police without even being told if they are a suspect or a witness. They do not even have the right to be assisted by a counsel. Our demand is for legal aid from the time of arrest for all. 


 Provisional charges should be abolished


 Provisional charges imply that the police can arrest and detain someone on a provisional charge while at the same time carry out an investigation. This provisional charge system, which is unique in the Republic of Mauritius, grants the police a disproportionate power over ordinary people. Our demand for the abolition of the provisional charge system is supported by many barristers and members of the legal community.


 Uncorroborated Confessions gathered by the CID should not serve as basis for automatic sentencing


 As per law, the court can go through to its sentencing process should a person “confess” to a crime. It is as if “confession” to a crime amounts to a guilty plea. We put “confess” in quotation marks because it is often extracted through torture and threat. 


In Lalit we believe that confessions should only count if made before the court. Even where there is confession, we believe that the court should not go automatically to its sentencing process, but should rely upon corroboration.


 Stop locking up people who cannot afford to pay bail or fines


 Our prisons are mostly filled by people who are unable to pay bail or fine. We believe that it is better to give a choice, that is, between community work or the payment of the fine. An acknowledgment of debt is better than jail for people who cannot afford bail.


 Abolish the certificate of good character for all non-violent criminal offenses


 The logic behind our judicial system is that someone convicted of an offence, once he has paid his fine, or served his time, or done his community service, has paid his debt to society. However, this is not true. For year afterwards, any boss or other employer can compulsorily require a certificate of good character prior to recruitment. So this ends up being a kind of double jeopardy, as well as a life sentence. It is particularly odious for those convicted for non-violent offenses. Almost all jobs, even being registered as an artisanal fisherman even requires a certificate of good character. This is of indubitably ridiculous, and means the judiciary is creating a class that is unable to live honestly. We believe that this in fact encourages people to remain in the criminal world.


 Court hearings should be genuinely public, and proceedings should be understood


 Currently in our courts, most of our sound systems are out of action. This means the public cannot hear what is going on. This means the hearing is not really “public” in any real sense of the word. And when the sound system is working, due to our court process, pleadings are made in English, making the entire proceedings unintelligible to most people.


 For the creation of a school for magistrates


 Most of our magistrates are ex police prosecutors or have worked as barristers and attorneys for the public prosecution. This makes them unaware of the realities of the common people. They have been trained to see the law in only one perspective, from a prosecution perspective. We believe that a school of magistracy will help future magistrate to be more down to earth with regards to our poorer social classes and working classes. Before becoming a magistrate, any barrister should have spent at least a year defending people on criminal charges.


 Cases Drag on in the Courts – Implement the Mackay report!


 In 1997, the Mackay Commission proposed a series of recommendations to reduce the lengthy judiciary process and to reform our current judicial system. As at date, these recommendations have not been implemented. The Report lies firmly in the desk drawer.


 At LALIT, we firmly believe that our current judicial system is unfair and unequal. If you agree with our position, why then not vote for LALIT on this issue in the upcoming elections, as a sign of support for this aspect of our program?


 Replacing the Privy Council


 The Republic of Mauritius should take the initiative of regrouping countries with the same legal system so as to create an international Court of Appeal to replace the Privy Council.