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Trinidad Express wins case of search warrant against AG, police officers

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(Trinidad Express) Officials of the Financial Investigation Branch (FIB) of the Police Service committed an illegality and violated the constitutional rights of Trini-bab Express when it executed two search warrants in the media house last March.

The Supreme Court yesterday ordered the State to pay compensatory damages to the company as well as its legal cost. The amount of damages to be paid will be determined by a Master of the Supreme Court on a date not yet set.

The delivery of the verdict was Justice Frank Seepersad who topped the newspaper’s allegation against the Offices of Attorney General, Police Commissioner and Supt Wendell Lucas, head of the FIB.

In its ruling, Justice Seepersad said in the face of the two orders, there were obvious errors that were not identified by the Justice of Peace that gave them.

Peace Judges he said they were not required to undergo any legal training and therefore, he believed there should be changes in the relevant laws to allow judges judges to be involved in issuing such orders.

The warranties were executed on March 10 as investigators sought information on who exactly provided information to investigative journalist Denyse Renne over an ongoing investigation against Assistant Police Commissioner Irwin Hackshaw over controversial banking transactions between 2014 and 2017.

Following the publication of Rennes’ article, Lucas led a team of officers to the Express House in Independence Square, Port of Spain, seeking the source of the information. In the process, they also seized four flash drives from the office of newspaper editor-in-chief Omatie Lyder.

Justice Seepersad also found that the seizure of items was unconstitutional.

In a sovereign democratic state, the execution of a search warrant on a media house must be viewed from the perspective of added and added importance as the implication and achievement of such an action cannot be equated with a situation where a search warrant is executed private citizen given that any unwarranted interference with freedom of the press could have a retrograde, echo and recessive impact on society as a whole, the judge said.

He said in a democracy, the power to claim a citizen’s private space is an extraordinary intrusive power, a power which should be exercised only when the necessary conditions are clear, secure and linked to a detectable offense.

There were obvious errors in the face of the injunctions which will be further identified and addressed and these errors were apparently not discovered by the Justice of Peace. As there is currently no requirement for Peace Justice to be legally trained, they may usually lack the degree of specialization required to equip and empower them to deal with important constitutional issues and the law needs to be revised in order to mandate the involvement of a Magistrate or a Judge, he stated.

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