Trinidad and Tobago
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and the law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Reports of abuses by police remained under investigation at year’s end.
The Anti-Gang Act bans membership in criminal gangs and gang-related activities as defined within the statute and permits authorities to hold suspects detained under the law without being charged for up to 120 days, after which the suspect may apply to a judge for bail if the case has not yet reached trial. Authorities continued to arrest many individuals pursuant to the antigang law but subsequently released most arrestees.
Many lawsuits filed in 2012 by some of the approximately 450 suspects detained during the 2011 state of emergency remained pending before the courts with no recent action.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of National Security oversees the police service, immigration division, and defense force, which includes the coast guard. The police service maintains internal security, while the defense force is responsible for external security but also has certain domestic security responsibilities. The coast guard is the main authority responsible for border security along the coastlines where there are no official ports of entry. The Customs and Excise Division and the Immigration Division are responsible for security at the ports. Members of the defense force often joined police officers in patrolling high-crime neighborhoods. Defense force members do not have arrest authority, apart from the coast guard, which can arrest in territorial waters and the Southern Caribbean.
The independent Police Service Commission, in consultation with the prime minister, appoints a commissioner of police to oversee the police force, although there has not been a permanent commissioner assigned since 2012. The commission also makes hiring and firing decisions in the police service, and the ministry typically has little direct influence over changes in senior positions. The Police Service Commission has the power to dismiss police officers, the commissioner of police can suspend officers, and the police service handles the prosecution of officers. Municipal police under the jurisdiction of 14 regional administrative bodies supplement the national police force. Public confidence in police was very low because of high crime rates and perceived corruption.
The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) is a civilian oversight body that investigates complaints about the conduct of police officers, including fatal police shootings; however, it received insufficient funding and had limited investigative authority. The PCA is free by law from the direction or control of any other person in the performance of its functions. The PCA had 20 investigators, and from October 1, 2015, through August 16, 2016, the unit received 320 complaints. Through investigations by the PCA and other bodies, authorities charged police officers with a number of offenses, including attempted murder, corruption, and kidnapping. The Police Professional Standards Unit and the Police Complaints Division, both nonindependent bodies within the police service, also investigate complaints against police.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
A police officer may arrest a person based on a warrant issued or authorized by a magistrate, or without a warrant if the officer witnesses the commission of an alleged offense. Detainees, as well as those summoned to appear before a magistrate, must appear in court within 48 hours. In cases of more serious offenses, the magistrate either commits the accused to prison on remand or allows the accused to post bail, pending a preliminary inquiry. Authorities granted detainees immediate access to a lawyer and to family members.
Ordinarily, bail was available for minor charges. Persons charged with murder, treason, piracy, kidnapping for ransom, and hijacking, as well as persons convicted twice of violent crimes, are ineligible for bail for a period of up to 120 days following the charge, but a judge may grant bail to such persons under exceptional circumstances. When authorities denied bail, magistrates advised the accused of their right to an attorney and, with few exceptions, allowed them access to an attorney once they were in custody and prior to interrogation.
The minister of national security may authorize preventive detention to preclude actions prejudicial to public safety, public order, or national defense, in which case the minister must state the grounds for the detention.
Arbitrary Arrest: False arrest, although infrequent, occurred. Victims may pursue legal redress and the right to a fair trial through an independent judiciary.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention resulting from heavy court backlogs and inefficiencies in the judicial system continued to be a problem. Pretrial detainees or remand prisoners represented approximately 63 percent of the prison population. Most persons under indictment waited seven to 10 years for their trial dates in the High Court, although some waited much longer. Officials cited several reasons for the backlog, including an understaffed and underfunded prosecutorial office, a shortage of defense attorneys for indigent persons, and the burden of the preliminary inquiry process. Additionally, the law requires anyone charged and detained to appear in person for a hearing before a magistrate’s court every 10 days, if only to have the case postponed for an additional 10 days, resulting in further inefficiency.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons who believe they have been arrested or detained in unfair circumstances may bring an action for malicious prosecution, which offers persons a legal basis to challenge the arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices. There were reports of government corruption during the year, and the 2016-17 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report ranked corruption as the second-most problematic factor to doing business in the country. There were no documented instances of individuals receiving a criminal punishment for alleged corruption.
Corruption: Corruption in the police and immigration services continued to be a problem, with senior officials acknowledging that officers participated in corrupt and illegal activities. There were allegations that some police officers had close relationships with gang leaders and that police, customs, and immigration officers often accepted bribes to facilitate drug, weapons, and human smuggling and trafficking. There is no internal affairs unit responsible for investigating incidents of professional misconduct attributed to law enforcement officials.
In August, two police officers were arrested and charged with taking bribes. The two men allegedly were paid approximately $1,270 Trinidad and Tobago dollars (TTD) ($190) to forgo arresting a man. The officers were charged and released on bail.
There were continued allegations that some ministers used their positions for personal gain. A government minister was removed as minister during a corruption investigation. No charges were made, and she retained her parliamentary seat.
Financial Disclosure: The law mandates that public officials disclose their assets, income, and liabilities to the Integrity Commission, which monitors, verifies, and publishes disclosures. Officials and candidates for public office were reluctant to comply with asset disclosure rules, primarily because of the perceived invasiveness of the process. The act stipulates a process when public officials fail to disclose assets and provides criminal penalties for failure to comply. The law clearly states which assets, liabilities, and interests public officials must declare.
While the commission undertook numerous investigations, it seldom referred cases to law enforcement authorities, and prosecution of those officials who refused to comply with asset disclosure rules was very limited. The Integrity Commission experienced turnover in its leadership positions and staffing shortages, and the media and public regularly raised questions about its effectiveness.
Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government documents. It includes a sufficiently narrow list of exceptions outlining the grounds for nondisclosure, although some critics charged that authorities exempted a growing number of public bodies from the law’s coverage. The law has an appeal mechanism for review of disclosure denials. Critics also noted the law does not have an enforcement mechanism if the government does not respond within the prescribed 30-day period. Criminal penalties, including imprisonment, exist for those who destroy documents of record, but there are no sanctions or other penalties for officials who do not comply with the procedural requirements of the law. The government maintained an easily navigable website on how to use the law effectively.