The inability of the police to quickly find foreign language translators has led to the temporary release of three Chinese men suspected of child prostitution.
High Court Judge David Harris yesterday upheld the trio’s habeas corpus applications after police investigators failed to give an official explanation over delays in charging the men since they were arrested almost two weeks ago.
However, the trio, who cannot be named until they are charged, only claimed a minor victory as they were all immediately rearrested by Immigration Division officials for allegedly overstaying their time in T&T.
The move means that detectives will now have to visit the men at the Immigration Detention Centre in Aripo to charge them at the end of their investigation.
Presenting submissions on behalf of the T&T Police Service (TTPS) at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain yesterday, attorney Ravi Rajcoomar sought to give an unofficial explanation for the delay. He claimed he was informed that police had difficulties in retaining translators for the numerous Chinese suspects and South American victims in the case, as they all spoke different dialects.
Rajcoomar alleged that translators, who had previously worked with police on other cases, specifically refused when asked to assist in the human trafficking investigation. He said the issue was resolved on Monday after police retained a translator used by the Judiciary. He suggested that investigators only needed 24 hours to complete their investigation and to consult with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on possible charges.
Harris did not appear convinced by the argument, as he questioned why police officers did not put his submissions into writing as required.
“There are investigations going on for 10 years, when do we draw the line?” Harris said.
He also questioned the failure of the police and other agencies to have adequate translators.
“T&T cannot hold itself to be a gateway to the world or a cosmopolitan country and does not have such services readily available,” Harris said.
During yesterday’s hearing, Rajcoomar revealed information on the immigration offences which the trio will be charged with as the human trafficking investigation continues. He claimed that while all three men entered T&T legally and were supposed to depart in November last year, Immigration Division records showed they never left.
The men were among 18 Chinese nationals who were detained on February 5 as police raided private and commercial properties in Curepe, Woodbrook and Westmoorings. During the exercise, 19 female minors from Venezuela, suspected of being forced into prostitution, were rescued. They remain in protective custody.
Guardian Media understands that three other suspects have filed similar habeas corpus applications challenging their protracted detentions. However, their applications are expected to become academic if they are charged before their scheduled hearing this morning.
The State was also represented by Netram Kowlessar while Subhas Panday represented the trio.
- by Derek Achong