Debate. 1 of 26.03.2013
SOUILLAC COURT – RENOVATION
(No. B/32) Mr M. Seeruttun (Second Member for Vieux Grand Port & Rose Belle) asked the Attorney General whether, in regard to the building housing the Souillac Court, he will state if he is aware of the derelict state thereof and if so, indicate the remedial actions that will be taken and the amount earmarked therefor, if any.
Reply: I am informed by the Deputy Master and Registrar of the Supreme Court as follows.
The courtroom of Savanne District Court was destroyed by fire on the night of 10-11 October 2011. In the meantime, a temporary courtroom has been set up in one of the remaining buildings within the precinct.
Bids were invited on 22 November 2012 for the renting of Court and office space to accommodate the District Court of Savanne, but the only bid received did not meet the bidding requirements.
Subsequently, six offers for renting of building for office space have been received. After site visits to all six buildings, one of them has been identified as it may satisfy the requirements for a District Court.
The rental assessment of the Valuation & Rental Estate Consultancy Services in respect of that building has been obtained.
Clearance is currently being sought from the Police, the Fire Services, the Traffic Management and Road Safety Unit, the Health and Safety Unit of the Ministry of Civil Service and Administrative Reforms, the Road Traffic and Safety Management Unit and the Ministry of Public Infrastructure before the signature of a lease agreement, and before a move to the building proposed can be contemplated.
SUPREME COURT - WEBSITE - CAUSE LISTS & COURT JUDGMENTS
(No. A/16) Mr A. K. Gungah (First Member for Grand’ Baie & Poudre d’Or) asked the Attorney General whether, in regard to the website of the Supreme Court, he will state if he is aware that the cause lists and the court judgments are not regularly updated and, if so, will he, for the benefit of the House, obtain information as to the reasons therefor and if remedial measures will be taken.
Reply: I have been informed by the Deputy Master and Registrar of the Supreme Court that the current situation is as follows with regard to the updating of cause lists and court judgments -
(a) with regard to the Supreme Court and Intermediate Court, both cause lists and judgments are regularly updated, and
(b) with regard to District Courts, some District Courts are not in a position to update their cause lists and judgments due to the fact that they are currently equipped with slow and inadequate Internet connection.
I am pleased to inform the House that yet another testimony to the will of this Government to assist in improving the service that the Judiciary offers to the public is that ADSL internet connection is now being installed in District Courts. Therefore, in the near future, the cause lists and judgments of the Districts Courts will be posted and available for consultation on the Supreme Court website.
Debate 13 of 25.06.2013
COMMERCIAL COURT - E-JUDICIARY
Mr V. Baloomoody (Third Member for GRNW & Port Louis West): Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I wanted to address an issue regarding the Judiciary, but I don’t know who is responsible. Given that the ex-Attorney General is not around, I don’t know to whom I should address. But anyway, I will raise the point because it is matter of concern with regard to the Judiciary.
The Deputy Speaker: Hon. Baloomoody, please go ahead!
Mr Baloomoody: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I raise this issue today not as a lawyer, but as a porte-parole for the litigants and also with regard to young practitioners. As you are aware, the Judiciary had started what they call the e-Judiciary, it came into operation on 01 April and it was introduced at the Commercial Court. The concern, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, is that when we apply for the funding to the ICF which is the Investment Climate Facility for Africa, they agree to fund that project of e-Judiciary - this is from the website - with the idea of reducing time and cost at the Commercial Court, that is, the Supreme Court, but unfortunately this is not the case. The cost has increased tremendously. Practitioners, be it Barristers or Solicitors, they have to make a down payment of Rs10,000 to appear before that Court and, of course, this goes to the client and the fees for lodging a case has increased from Rs330 to more than Rs1,000. What I am saying is that the e-Judiciary is making justice more expensive in civil matters before the Commercial Court. The funding is 75% from ICF and 25% from the Government of Mauritius. I am sure that the ICF is not aware that justice now, because of this project, is costing more expensive to litigants. So, I am appealing to Government to intervene financially - not personally or politically in the Judiciary - to ensure that the implementation of this project does not increase the cost to litigants as this is causing tremendous prejudice to ti dimounes.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir.
The Minister of Business, Enterprise and Cooperatives (Mr J. Seetaram): Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I very much understand the concern of the hon. Member, I will surely pass on the message to the Attorney General.
Debate 14 0f 02.07.2013
E-JUDICIARY – CONTRACT
(No. B/606) Mrs S. Hanoomanjee (Second Member for Savanne & Black River) asked the Minister of Agro-Industry and Food Security, Attorney General whether, in regard to E-Judiciary, he will, for the benefit of the House, obtain information as to –
(a) the name of the contractor therefor;
(b) the cost thereof;
(c) if any delay occurred in the implementation thereof and, if so, indicate the reasons therefor, and
(d) if the Mauritius Law Society has made representations for the freezing thereof, and if so, indicate the actions, if any, taken in relation thereto.
Mr Faugoo: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, the aim of the e-filing and case management system, commonly referred to as the e-Judiciary, is an important feature relating to the modernisation of the Judiciary by availing itself of the full potentials that Information Technology can bring for the optimisation of our Court cases management system, with a view to bring about an improvement in the quality and expeditiousness of the justice delivery system.
Indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, the e-filing and case management system enables Attorneys to file, electronically, the pleadings required in various types of cases, and have cases put in shape and fixed for merits, instead of having to do so in person at a number of sittings before the Courts, as is generally the case.
Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I am informed by the Master and Registrar of the Supreme Court that in regard to parts (a) and (b) of the question, the information is as follows –
(a) the contractor for the e-Judiciary Project is Mauritius Network Services Ltd, in which the Government of Mauritius is a major shareholder;
(b) a total sum of USD3.6 m. has been earmarked with respect to the implementation of Phase 1 of the e-Judiciary project. The Investment Climate Facility of Africa and the Government of Mauritius will provide the 75% and 25% of the funding respectively.
In fact, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, a pilot e-Judiciary project is underway at the Commercial Division of the Supreme Court. I am informed by the Master and Registrar of the Supreme Court that it is intended to extend the project to all Civil Divisions of the Supreme Court, other than the Family Division and also the Criminal Division, I guess, once the pilot project is over. This pilot project, together with the said proposed extension constitutes Phase I of the e-Judiciary project. It is intended, as part of Phase II of the project, to extend it to all other Civil and Criminal Divisions of all Courts across Mauritius. I am informed by the Master and Registrar that Phase II of the project has not yet been finalised.
Regarding part (c) of the question, I am informed by the Master and Registrar that delay has indeed occurred in the implementation of the project. The project was originally to be implemented within 18 months of the signature of the contract on 31 March 2010.
Several reasons, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, have been identified by an Implementation Team, comprised of members of the Judiciary, for the delay. Firstly, after a User Acceptance Test, devised by the Implementation Team, was carried out by the Judiciary in October of 2011, numerous suggestions were made to the contractor who agreed to accommodate these suggestions which had a significant impact on the system designed, and which necessitated major changes to the different modules. Secondly, the contractor has experienced difficulty in retaining key personnel in connection with the project, and this has contributed to the delay in the delivery of the system. Thirdly, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, the Master and Registrar of the Supreme Court has further informed that the system has been implemented on a pilot basis since 04 April 2013 and certain bugs were detected. These bugs are currently being fixed by the contractor’s technicians on site.
In regard to part (d) of the question, I am informed that representations were received from the Mauritius Law Society requesting that the system be frozen. However, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, following a meeting between the hon. Chief Justice and the Executive Committee of the Mauritius Law Society in the beginning of June this year, the latter unanimously agreed that the e-Judiciary project be proceeded with. Following that meeting, free training sessions were conducted by the contractor on 3 occasions in the month of June this year so as to enable the users to familiarise themselves with the various functionalities of the system. All Attorneys-at-law, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, were invited to the training sessions, and some 70 users, comprising Attorneys-at-law and Attorneys’ Clerks have, so far, attended the training sessions. I am also informed that additional sessions may be organised on request.
Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I am further informed by the Master and Registrar of the Supreme Court that -
(a) User’s Manual for Attorneys is under preparation and will be available for distribution at the end of the pilot phase, to which I previously referred to, and
(b) should there be additional representations made to the Judiciary in connection with the e-Judiciary system, the latter will address same accordingly.
Mrs Hanoomanjee: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, has the hon. Minister been informed that with the e-Judiciary, an Attorney has to pay a one-off of Rs10,000 and a monthly subscription of Rs1,000 to put up an appearance before a Commercial Court besides the fact that the cost for a document to be filed before the Commercial Court has increased from Rs250 to Rs350 for the first five pages and an additional Rs50 for each additional page? Is the hon. Minister aware that obviously the Attorneys will not bear the cost themselves and that these costs will be passed on to the consumers, that is, to the population? Can I ask the hon. Minister whether the population has been made aware that there is an increase in cost when they see an Attorney for a commercial case for Phase I of the project, let us forget about Phase II for the time being?
Mr Faugoo: Obviously, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I am aware of the operational cost implication to Attorneys who are going to use the system. But this is provided by the law. It is not something decided by the Judiciary on its own. It is not one-sided. This is provided for under the First Schedule of the Courts Electronic Filing of Documents Rules 2012. This is prescribed under that particular regulation that they have to pay a one-off upfront sum of Rs10,000 and also a monthly subscription of Rs1,000 and, as was said, a fee of Rs350 per document up to five pages and a fee of Rs10 per extra page uploaded from thereon.
What the hon. Member is saying is whether this has a repercussion on the clients, litigants or the public. It depends from which angle you are looking at it, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir. The Supreme Court is not making a profit out of it. This is the operational cost which has to be passed on to people who are making use of the system. This is one of the processes in the modernisation of our Judiciary in this country. The Court fees have remained the same. We should not mix issues. The Court fees which are charged to lodge a case have been there for the past thirteen years. We have to bear this in mind. As I said, it depends on which angle you are looking from. Rs10,000 one-off upfront, this is not going to happen every year. It is nearly Rs800...
It is one-off...
One Attorney, one-off and then monthly it is going to be about Rs800. What I am saying is that one should understand – maybe my friends who are at the Bar should understand it better - if an Attorney lodges a case otherwise, not using the e-services, he has to go either in person or through his Clerk to wait for the office to open. He has to go to do it personally. He has to go and pay the fees required. For how long? Maybe for more than one year! He has to go so many times before the Magistrate or the Judge to have the case being shaped so that it is fixed for trial. How many man-hours are we saving for Rs800? We have to impress upon these Attorneys that they also have a moral duty towards their clients. Rs800 for one Attorney per month! This can be used anytime. From the beginning, they can lodge the case anytime, from anywhere until the case is in shape and is fixed for merits. This is a huge step forward, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir. We should all subscribe to it. All be it, there is a cost element which reflects maybe at the end of the day. But I am of the opinion that people who are using this system, which is for the betterment of the Judiciary as a whole – we have already modernised our Judiciary. We have come up with a special Court which is the Commercial Court. This is in the interest of litigants. This is in the interest of the business community in this country, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir. This is a giant step forward and we should all be happy about it.
Mr Baloomoody: Is the Attorney General aware that on the website of the Investment Climate Facility (ICF) which has financed the project up to 75%, it is written that the project will simplify and automate the settlement process and reduce time and cost for commercial cases lodged at the Supreme Court? So, the idea was to reduce cost when we apply for that financial contribution, but, in fact, we are not reducing cost. Cost has increased not only for Attorneys as it is not only the Attorneys who have to pay the Rs10,000, but also for Barristers. I know many young Barristers, especially new Barristers, who are not being able to practise at the Commercial Court because they could not afford to pay that Rs10,000 fixed deposit.
Mr Faugoo: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, it depends from which angle you are looking at the problem. As I said, this is going to save the Attorney a lot in financial terms. If the case is being lodged on-line, all the formal matters which sometimes, before the Supreme Court, take years, we all complain of delays in justice, we all complain of long, protracted procedures before the Supreme Court, this is something new, as I said, this is going to reduce the cost of the Attorney at the end of the day because of the man-hours that he used to put on the previous system compared to the one today with e-filing. This should reflect in the fees that they are going to charge to their clients if they are honest to themselves. I am not condemning anybody, I am not casting any aspersion on any professional, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, but, what I am saying is that this is meant to reduce cost. Even the Consultants - what my friend is saying is right – this is what they have said and this is exactly what they are doing. They are trying to reduce the cost. We have to wait for some time for the system to start functioning fully and then we will see the fruits out of this.
Mr Uteem: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I have to declare my interest because I am a Barrister and Barristers also have to pay Rs10,000 and Rs1,000 per month. It is not just this, we also have to buy a computer and subscribe on-line because if you are not on-line, you do not...
The Deputy Speaker: What is your question hon. Uteem?
Mr Uteem: Is the hon. Attorney General aware that today, as a result of the e-Judiciary, there is even more time taken up by Lawyers, Barristers and Attorneys to check each time whether there has been a decision and there is a big confusion when it comes to fixing the date of trials or arguments because unlike formal matters where all parties are present and decisions are taken there and then, now we have to wait and see when the Judge has time, he will let us know the dates?
Mr Faugoo: I am not claiming, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, that this system is hundred percent trouble-free, that it does not have any problem. As I have said, this is a new system which has been put in place; it is still in its teething period. If there is any problem in practice, I think representations should be made to the Judiciary, to the Chief Justice and, as I have said, he is going to look into it.
Mr Obeegadoo: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, is the hon. Minister aware that there have been forceful representations by the law society, speaking on behalf of all Attorneys, pointing to the drawbacks of this e-Judiciary initiative? Is he aware that there are even today practical problems where Attorneys are being asked to get a g-mail internet address because they cannot make use of the system as it is right now? Now being given that it is access to justice that must prevail over any other consideration, will the hon. Minister agree to convey the message to where it should be conveyed that, at least, we should have the two systems operating in parallel until all the teething problems have been addressed?
Mr Faugoo: I am a bit surprised, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir. I just said that there were complaints by the law society. There was a meeting which was convened by the Chief Justice. They were asking for the system to be frozen, to be put at a pause. After the meeting with the Chief Justice, they have agreed that the system can go on, they can continue with the system. They have provided for training, they are coming up with a brochure, a manual on how to make use of the system; this is second; third, they are open to giving more sessions of training to the end users, Attorneys, Attorneys’ Clerks, Barristers. I said that there was not a litigation, there were representations by the Council, but this has been sorted out, this is behind us. Now, if there is any practical problem, as I have said, if representations are made like hon. Obeegadoo is saying, I will, of course, as the Attorney General pass on the message to the right quarters.
Mrs Hanoomanjee: Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, my main qualm is the cost which is passed on to the consumer, to the user. As at present, a person is entitled to legal aid with an income of Rs10,000 or less provided he is not the owner of any property. Does the Minister think that a person with an income of Rs10,000, who owns a small house, will be able to file a case before the Commercial Court, that is, in the first phase or before a Family Court in Phase II, if such high costs are claimed by Attorneys who pass on the cost to the population? Isn’t this a denial of access to justice, to these categories of people who need legal aid?
Mr Faugoo: It is the contrary of what the hon. Member is saying. This is opening access and making it easier for litigants, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir. If the Member has any qualm, if she has any representations, any apprehensions on the practice by Solicitors, by Attorneys, I think the best thing would be for her to write to the law society, understand first the workings, the mechanism of the system which has been put in place and then write to them, and say they should not be passing on because there is no extra cost. In the long run, there is not going to be extra cost, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir.
Mr Roopun: I should first of all declare my interest, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, irrespective of the cost and in addition to what has been stated by hon. Members, there is also another aspect which I think the hon. Minister should consider. It is the question that any party should have latitude to present his case to the best of his abilities and the fact that for each page you download in the system, additional cost is being paid, is unfair and it is denying justice to all litigants because there is a disincentive for them to file documents which may be in their favour. I think that the hon. Minister should convey to all those concerned that, at least, for the filing of documents which may help to deliver justice, there should be no additional cost.
Mr Faugoo: I’ll pass on the message, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir.
Mr Baloomoody: The ICF is financing the 75% of the e-project in our Commercial Court. Can I ask the hon. Minister whether – because on the website of the IFC we find that the corporate partners of IFC are Anglo-American, Coca-Cola, SABMILLER, SASOL, Shelf Foundation, Standard Bank and UNI LOVER, it is proper for these institutions to finance our Commercial Court when we know that our Court, at least, should have neutral finance - if I may use that word - because we are talking about our Commercial Court and they are the corporate institutions which are supporting the institution which is financing our e-project.
Mr Faugoo: I am not aware of the components, of the sources of the funds and I have not been on the website.
The Deputy Speaker: Last question hon. Mrs Hanoomanjee.
Mrs Hanoomanjee: Can the hon. Minister say whether the e-Judiciary has made any provision for law firms to register because I am given to understand that each Attorney has to register on his or her own individual name?
Mr Faugoo: I have to look into this.
Debate 15 of 09.07.2013
LEGAL AID - SUCCESSION AFFIDAVIT
(No. B/648) Mrs J. Radegonde-Haines (Fourth Member for Savanne & Black River) asked the Minister of Agro-Industry and Food Security, Attorney General whether, in regard to the affidavit of succession, he will state if consideration will be given for legal aid to be extended to the families who do not have the means to meet the cost thereof.
Mr Faugoo: Mr Speaker, Sir, the Government Programme 2012-2015, at paragraph 35 of Chapter IV, reads as follows -
“The Legal Aid Act will be reviewed in the coming year to broaden the scope for legal assistance.”
With the enactment of the Legal Aid (Amendment) Act 2012, inspired by the Mackay report as well as a Green paper on “Equal Access to Justice: Reform on Legal Aid in Mauritius” prepared by Professor Ved Prakash Torul. Government has fulfilled its stated objectives and now we have a Legal Aid and Legal Assistance Act which inter alia –
(i) extends legal assistance at police enquiry and bail stages;
(ii) it also provides for a Means test and a Merit test wherever applicable. However, I have to highlight that the scope of legal aid under the Legal Aid and Legal Assistance Act is limited to parties in civil and criminal proceedings.
Mr Speaker, Sir, it is clear affidavits of succession are at present not covered by the scope of the Legal Aid and Legal Assistance Act. Whether the cost of an affidavit of succession is prohibitive is a matter which has yet to be determined as the contents of an affidavit of succession are standard, being prescribed by law under section 4 of the Transcription and Mortgage Act. Section 4 of the Transcription and Mortgage Act was amended by Act 20 of 2011, the Economic and Financial Measures (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011, and this has contributed to simplify the drawing up of an affidavit of succession. As such, there does not seem to be a justification for an alleged prohibitive cost for such a document.
I shall nevertheless refer the matter to the Mauritius Law Society and the Chamber of Notaries for such action as may be deemed appropriate. In particular, I intend to invite the President of the Mauritius Law Society and also the Chamber of Notaries to consider setting up a pro-bono scheme among its members, which may inter-alia, allow persons who do not have the means to enlist the services of an Attorney or Notary to have an affidavit of succession drawn up.
Mrs Radegonde-Haines: Mr Speaker, Sir, in the light of what the hon. Minister just said, my concern is the poor people who are already suffering from many existing disadvantages. Can the hon. Minister tell us if he will consider bringing equal benefit of the justice system to all Mauritian citizens, including those affected by socioeconomic status?
Mr Faugoo: This has very large implications, Mr Speaker, Sir, especially financial. So, I cannot, as Attorney General, pronounce on this issue.
Mr Obeegadoo: I must confess that I was a bit surprised by the answer of the hon. Minister. He is a Member of Parliament like all of us. Is he not aware that regularly, poor, very poor people come to us with issues that require an affidavit of succession, and that they simply cannot afford the cost thereof? Will the hon. Minister not agree that this is a policy decision that Government must take and not an issue just to be referred to the law society?
Mr Faugoo: I agree, Mr Speaker, Sir. This is why I said, in the first place, that I am going to invite the law society and also the Chamber of Notaries to look into this. But over and above, as I said, it has large implications, especially financial, and I cannot, as Attorney General, on my own, pronounce on this issue in this House, Mr Speaker, Sir.
Mrs Radegonde-Haines: Mr Speaker, Sir, allow me to insist. Can the hon. Minister tell us from his own experience, as hon. Obeegadoo just said, how can an individual living in poverty afford an affidavit of succession as compared to individuals who earn a decent salary, and if this is not enough compelling for his Government to improve access to the justice system to all citizens?
Mr Faugoo: It depends on how you look at it, Mr Speaker, Sir - justice system. This is an affidavit of succession which does not form part of a legal proceeding, neither civil nor criminal. It is a document which has to be drawn up for private use. We have to make a distinction, as I said. We consider this one. There are so many cases where we have to consider. Government revised the law in relation to legal aid last year, 2012, and we have sort of increased the ambit of legal aid. We have extended the ambit of legal aid to so many cases which were not covered by the 1974 Act, Mr Speaker, Sir. So, as I said, I will take up the matter with the Council, and also I can take up the matter with my colleague, the hon. Minister of Finance.
Mr Uteem: Mr Speaker, Sir, the hon. Attorney General has referred this not being part of the proceedings, but it is a requirement of law, as he properly knows, to get this affidavit of succession. So, may I ask the hon. Attorney General if he could talk to the hon. Minister of Social Security and make it a possibility for anyone who cannot afford to pay an Attorney to get one? He can be an officer from the State Law Office who is based on a temporary basis, but at least for those who are the poorest and cannot afford, I think it is a policy decision of the Government and not something to be put on the back of law society.
Mr Faugoo: I will surely do that, Mr Speaker, Sir.
Mr Ganoo: In fact, there are two components which make the burden so heavy for these people. They have to pay the Attorney’s fees and on top of that, if luckily or unluckily the deceased is the owner of a small cité house, then registration duties have to be imposed on because he is the owner of the property, and this is what makes the sum become very onerous. Today, it is in the region of Rs8,000 that an Attorney charges the poor man, including his own fee and the fees he has to pay the Registrar General. So, having said that, Mr Speaker, Sir, may I ask the hon. Attorney General to see to it that at least one of these components can be done away with like the proposals which have been made by my friend, in terms of Attorney fees, liaising with the State Law Office so that one State Law Attorney or young State Law Attorney’s desk would be set up to look after these cases when poor people have to make an affidavit of succession and also exempting, having a means test for those who are very poor? The hon. Minister of Finance has the power to exempt people not to pay certain registration fee and to probe into that possibility also.
Mr Faugoo: Most of these issues which have been raised fall under the purview of the Minister of Finance, as the Leader of the Opposition rightly stated. He has the power already, according to the law, to exempt certain applicants from payment of fees, especially on the basis of being poor; those people who cannot afford, Mr Speaker, Sir. As I said, I am going to have a word with my colleagues, the Minister of Finance and also the Minister of Social Security, to see how far we can extend help to this category of people.
Mr Speaker: Last question, but don’t repeat the same question you asked earlier.
Mrs Radegonde-Haines: Thank you, Mr Speaker, Sir. Mr Speaker, Sir, we have our Constitution, and we have the human rights signed and ratified in Mauritius. Does the hon. Minister agree that failure to provide legal aid to the individual living in poverty violates his or her right to access the court services and his or her dignity? Will he take positive action of what he just said right now, to extend the legal aid not to exclude any individual on ground of his socioeconomic status?
Mr Faugoo: I do not agree, Mr Speaker, Sir.
Mr Speaker: Next question!
Debate of 19.11.2013
CHILDREN - SEXUAL ABUSE – SPECIALISED COURT
(No. B/909) Mrs L. Ribot (Third Member for Stanley & Rose Hill) asked the Minister of Agro-Industry and Food Security, Attorney General whether, in regard to sexual abuse on children, he will state if, for the protection of the victims, consideration will be given for the setting up of a specialised court for the trial of cases thereof.
Mr Faugoo: Mr Speaker, Sir, it cannot be denied that child victims, and especially child victims of sexual abuse, are particularly vulnerable and deserve a special treatment and protection, so that they can depose on the actual facts of the case in Court with confidence and without fear or intimidation, and do not feel that they are the ones “on trial” during the trial.
I am informed that special protective measures are already in place to protect child victims at different stages of the criminal justice system, from the time a declaration is made to the police up to the final determination of the case.
When such cases are reported to the Police by a child, he is usually accompanied by his parent or guardian. However, where this is not possible, for example, where the parent himself is accused of having committed the offence on the child, then by virtue of section 12 of the Child Protection Act, the child can make the declaration to the Police in the presence of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare.
I am also informed that there exists a Protocol of Assistance to Victims of Sexual Assault, involving mainly the Ministry of Gender Equality, the Ministry of Health and Quality of Life and the Police, which has as objective to process cases of child sexual abuse expeditiously. The Ministry of Gender Equality also provides continued psychological support to the child.
At the Court level, I am informed of a fast track procedure which was established in June 2012following a working agreement between the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Judiciary. This procedure aims at dealing with cases involving children without undue delay. Since last year, pre-trial conferences are being held in order to prioritise such cases to ensure their smooth running. The Judiciary and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions work to ensure that, as far as possible, children attend court on a least number of occasions and such cases are fixed during school holidays, and early dates are identified by the Intermediate Court for the trials.
With regard to the deposition of child victims in Court, many children may feel intimidated or traumatised when giving evidence in Court. The Courts Act makes provision for child victims to depone, in appropriate cases, in camera under Section 161A Courts Act, which means in the absence of members of the public, only the parties are present and their legal representatives or again under Section 181B Courts Act, through a live video or live television link system and such video conferencing facilities are presently available at the New Court House.
Mr Speaker, Sir, Government intends to amend the Criminal Code in order to make better provision for offences relating to sexual abuse.
The Ministry of Gender Equality is also working on a Children’s Bill, which will provide for a comprehensive protective mechanism for children. Hon Members will also recall that the Budget Speech 2014 provides for the Child Protection Act to be amended to provide for Sexual Risk Orders to be made with regard to victims of child sexual abuse.
In light of these existing and proposed protective measures, it would be fair to say that though we have no specialised Children’s Court, specialised services and facilities are available for the protection of child victims at different stages of their encounter with the criminal justice system.
Mr Speaker, Sir, It is therefore not envisaged, at this stage at least, to consider the setting up of a specialised Children’s Court.
Mrs Ribot: Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to ask the hon. Minister whether special measures are taken when the victim of sexual abuse is a handicapped child?
Mr Faugoo: I am sure there must be. I am not aware of the specific nature or what is available for victims of handicapped children.
Mr Baloomoody: Mr Speaker, Sir, I am surprised to learn from the hon. Attorney General that there exists at the Court House, a Court where victims, children victims of alleged sexual offence can depone under camera. If this exists, can the hon. Attorney General inform the House what is the Court No., on which storey it is, where is it situated? There is only one Court where there is camera and it is used for Bail and Remand Court. Please, don’t mislead the House! There is no Court whatsoever at the Court House where an alleged victim can depone under camera?
Mr Faugoo: I do not know if the Member is speaking from his personal experience.
I am also answering to the question which has been asked in this august Assembly. From the information which I have received, I am only giving information which I have received from the Supreme Court and the law says, the law which was amended in 2011, Mr Speaker, Sir. This is not a question to be annoyed about, it is not a debate; it is factual, whether it is there or it is not there. I have been told…
I cannot answer. I am not responsible for the Supreme Court, Mr Speaker, Sir. I can only pass on what I have been given as information from the Supreme Court, from the Master and Registrar. The law provides for a television system...
and this is place. They have said that this is in place and this exists at the new Court House. Which room, which Courtroom, which particular area, I do not know the detailed facts, but I am told today - I am confirming to the House unless I have been misled which I do not think; unless I have been misled - things which do not exist.
but I will go and check...
I will go and check and give benefit of doubt to my hon. friend because this is factual. I will go and check.
Mr Speaker: Okay! Hon. S. Boolell!
Dr. S. Boolell: Mr Speaker, Sir, from personal experience, I consider the fast track to be a virtual track. I would like to ask the hon. Minister how long does it take between a victim reporting a case at the Police station and the last time that victim is needed in a Court of law even with the accused identified because this is the form of abuse that we are inflicting on the victim.
Mr Faugoo: Mr Speaker, Sir, there is no law as it is today which provides for the case to be heard within a prescribed delay. This depends on the Court, the Bench, the number of witnesses, the nature of the case and, also, on the Defence Counsel, Mr Speaker, Sir.
What we are proposing as Government today is a very relevant and important point, a pertinent point, I must say, Mr Speaker, Sir, that we have to see to it, especially when the victim and the main witness is a child in a case of sexual abuse, in fact, it has been approved by Cabinet and we are proposing to amend the Criminal Code to provide for all prosecutions of sexual offences to be heard within six months of the reporting as far as possible. This is first.
Secondly, we are also proposing - we will be coming to the House soon - that the trial for a sexual offence, save in very exceptional, we are making exceptional circumstances, to take place from day-to-day de die in diem meaning continuously, without asking for postponement and postponement being granted, so, on everyday basis, as from the start of the case to the close of the case, Mr Speaker, Sir.
Also, we are going to bring amendment to the law to give absolute prohibition regarding the disclosure of the identity of a child victim in a case of sexual assault.
Mrs Ribot: Mr Speaker, Sir, from what we understand, there is no fast track for such cases. I would like to ask the hon. Minister whether he will see to it that in no case, be it in the waiting room or the Courtroom, the victims have to face their abusers.
Mr Faugoo: Mr Speaker, Sir, in my main answer I said there is a fast track which was established in 2012. This is following discussions between the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Supreme Court. I also said that there is a conference between Counsel appearing for DPP’s Office and the Court to establish that fast track. This is in existence and this is how it is being done in practice. Maybe the hon. Member is not aware. Same for the camera, I give benefit of doubt and I am going to check. But this is what I have been told, Mr Speaker, Sir.
Mrs Ribot: I haven’t got any reply to my question.
Mr Speaker: Hon. Ganoo!
You will come afterwards!
Mr Ganoo: Mr Speaker, Sir, I will come to the same subject that has been raised by my colleagues concerning the existence of a special Courtroom. I agree with the hon. Minister that the law was amended in fact by way of Act No. 30 of 2003 when Mr Leung Shing was the Attorney-General at that time. I remember I was one of those who proposed to the hon. Minister and to my hon. friend who was Minister of Family and Gender, hon. Mrs Navarre-Marie to the effect that the video link system should be instituted so that the child victim does not face his aggressor when she is deponing. The law was passed in 2003, but, unfortunately, may I, pour la bonne gouverne du ministre, I must tell him that, unfortunately, as legal practitioners, we have never seen any special Court. There is no Court, in fact, which is provided with a video link system. Unfortunately, the hon. Minister has been perhaps provided with the wrong information. But can I appeal to him that this should be instituted as quickly as possible. What happens in our Courts today, true is that the Magistrate clears the Court and asks everybody to leave the Court when a child victim depones...
Mr Speaker: In camera.
Mr Ganoo: Yes, in camera according to the Courts Act. This is what is done but there is no video link as such. Can I ask the hon. Minister also, in terms of fast track, that he has been misled also on that because I know personally of cases where child victims have to depone a long time after since these cases are dragging on for two or three years? Again, perhaps, unfortunately, the hon. Minister has been misled on that score also. Can I ask him to see to it that this protocol which he just referred to is, in fact, implemented so that really in practice, cases where there are child victims are disposed of as quickly as possible? May I remind the hon. Minister also that in the Sexual Offences Act which was introduced by Mr Valayden before 2010 and which finally died before a Select Committee and which never gave its report, there was a proposal in that Bill to that effect.
Mr Speaker: Hon. Ganoo, I am sorry to interrupt, but you are making a speech!
Mr Ganoo: Can we reintroduce that particular clause of the Bill that, in fact, sexual cases where child victims have to depone are disposed of with celerity and within a set limit of time?
Mr Faugoo: I take note of what has been suggested by the hon. Member, Mr Speaker, Sir. I must say he is the second Member who happens to be a Counsel, a lawyer as well. It gives me extra reason to go and double check whether the facility of live television link system is in place. It is clear from my answer where it is being said that such video conferencing facilities are presently available at the new Court House. I asked the same question as I was not aware. This is the very reason, as hon. Ganoo suggested, to avoid the child victim to see and be in contact with the perpetrator of the crime who is the accused party.
They also told me that in a case where the child victim is a girl, there is a Woman Police Constable (WPC) who is in attendance with the girl and if it is a boy, there is someone. So, I am going to countercheck but at least one must appreciate, Mr Speaker, Sir, that we have gone a long way from nothing to today protocol.
There is a protocol which never existed before. There is a protocol to deal...
with children who are victims of sexual abuse at the level of enquiry, meaning before the case strike, I again say, there is a working arrangement between the DPP’s Office, there is a conference which is held between Counsel appearing for the prosecution and the Supreme Court for the smooth running, especially to have the case heard within a reasonable delay. And, the third thing which I said about television, is something new. We are even in advance of what exists in UK, Mr Speaker, Sir. In the UK, I was reading...
I was reading...
Mr Speaker, Sir, if you could bear with me a few seconds, I was reading an article in ‘The Guardian’, it was in October of this year –
“Child sexual abuse victims are being failed by Courts.”
It is one of the main charities which deals with sexual cases where children are victims, NSPCC. Look at what they said –
“Children giving evidence in Court in sexual abuse cases need to be given more support because many suffer from stress before a trial (...).”
It goes on to say –
“Fewer than a quarter of the 23,000 child sex offences recorded in England and Wales last year resulted in prosecution (...).”
This is the case of UK. I am not saying that we have done everything, we need to improve. We are learning from experience and there is a lot to be done. But what I am saying is that a lot has been done already, Mr Speaker, Sir.