Trinidad High Court rules on 15-year old preliminary inquiry

The High Court of Trinidad and Tobago has ordered that the Director of Public Prosecutions cannot prefer a bill of indictment as a substitute for the completion of a long-running preliminary inquiry (Steve Ferguson & Others v DPP, CV 2018-02524). The case concerned committal proceedings launched in 2004 that arose from the construction of Piarco International Airport in the late 1990s. The preliminary inquiry was still ongoing when the magistrate retired from the bench in 2018. This led the DPP to suggest that he might use his statutory powers to circumvent the whole committal process by preferring an indictment, thereby sending the case to the High Court for trial.

The issue in this public law challenge was whether the preliminary inquiry had begun when the DPP’s power to prefer an indictment in this scenario was created in 2005. Mr Justice Rampersad accepted the claimants’ argument that the English case law relied on by the DPP should be distinguished, and that the preliminary inquiry began when the claimants were first brought before the magistrates in 2004. The judge ordered that the DPP had no power to prefer an indictment and that the preliminary inquiry would have to be recommenced before another magistrate.

Edward Fitzgerald QC and Joe Middleton acted for the claimants with Trinidad attorneys Fyard Hosein SC, Sasha Bridgemohansingh, Aadam Hosein and Annette Mamchan.