A HIGH COURT judge has offered several recommendations for greater efficiency in the criminal justice system as it relates to the filing of indictments. She made the comments when she sentenced an Estonian national to time already spent in jail.
Vaido Villem, 23, has spent five years and 22 days in prison on a conspiracy to traffick cocaine charge. He wanted to plead guilty to the January 2013 charge in 2014, but had to wait until his case reached the High Court.
Justice Gillian Lucky said her sentence would have been no more than four years and Villem has spent more than that in prison, she ordered that he be sentenced to time already spent. His indictment was only filed by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions on February 6, after Villem’s attorneys, Ravi Rajcoomar and Indarjit Seuraj, took the novel step to apply for bail, knowing it would not be granted but did so to bring the issue to the court’s attention.
He was committed for sentence in the High Court in 2014, but because the charge against him was an indictable offence, the magistrate could not sentence him and his matter was sent to the High Court for that purpose. Another man who was held with Villem and ingested 100 cocaine pellets was charged with cocaine trafficking and sentenced to four years when pleading guilty at the magistrates court.
His case was heard summarily and he spent two years, eight months in prison and it took an additional eight months before he could be sent back to Estonia since the local authorities could not afford to pay for three airplane tickets for the officers who were required to escort him.
In Villem’s case he was charged with conspiracy since he admitted he did not swallow any of the pellets and also assisted the police in their investigations. While not ascribing blame to any department, Lucky said something had to be done to fix the “blockage” in the criminal justice system.
In Villem’s case she said to have him spend any more time in prison will be a travesty of justice. She suggested a registry be established for the magistrates court so that information on the committal can be sent to the DPP for indictments to be fast-tracked and filed in the High Court. Lucky further suggested the development of protocols between the relevant departments for the transmission of the file and that the High Court Registry assign a court for the determination of the case.
A Guilty Plea court was also suggested so that these cases can be dealt with expeditiously as she said the aim was to ensure that matters do not fall through the cracks.
“It will assist with alleviating the backlog of criminal cases,” she said, adding that it will also ensure that justice is fair and swift.
Villem’s family has already purchased a ticket for his return to Estonia. Lucky also commended prosecutor Giselle Heller-Ferguson for ensuring that the indictment was filed when the matter came up before the court, earlier this month.