By Rhondor Dowlat
Caribbean News Now contributor
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- Former senator, senior counsel Dana Seetahal, was assassinated in Woodbrook, Trinidad, shortly after midnight on Saturday.
According to a police report, Seetahal was driving her Volkswagen SUV along Hamilton-Holder Street, Woodbrook, when upon reaching the vicinity of the Woodbrook Youth Facility, two vehicles pulled alongside.
Dana Seetahal SC
One of the vehicles then drove ahead a short distance and pulled across the road, blocking it. The other vehicle pulled alongside and its occupants opened fire on the SUV. The two vehicles then sped off.
Police believe it was a "hit" arising out of Seetahal’s involvement in the Vindra Naipaul-Coolman case. Investigations are continuing.
Reigning Power Soca Monarch, Machel Montano, was at the scene of the crime on Sunday morning. He was seen sitting on the pavement and weeping uncontrollably. Seetahal represented Montano in his assault trial a few years ago.
The government through the ministry of national security has pledged every resource necessary to the law enforcement machinery of the state and together have collectively given this the highest priority.
"We will not rest until those who have committed this most unspeakable act are brought to justice. It is critical that the perpetrators of this crime be brought to justice in the quickest possible time. As such, the ministry of national security working in tandem with Crime Stoppers Trinidad and Tobago has pledged one million dollars (TT$1 million/US$155,000) for the arrest and successful conviction of these criminals," minister of national security Gary Griffith said.
"I have asked the commissioner of police to bring these killers to justice and that he should use all the resources available to him in investigating this matter. Ms Seetahal was one of the brightest legal minds in the region and this tragedy is an immeasurable loss to her profession, this country and the region as a whole," he added.
Griffith has made contact with the Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams to keep abreast on every stage of the investigation surrounding her death.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan in a media report described Seetahal as a titan: “The country has lost a titan. She was the quintessential Trinbagonian. She had a carefree nature, was very public spirited and had a well-respected acumen. Seetahal served the country in several capacities, as a former independent senator, a lecturer at the law faculty and as a defence counsel. But she was also a personal friend.”
Ramlogan reportedly revealed that his last conversation with her was on Saturday evening.
“In fact, we spoke this evening as she’d called to ask if I’d read her column in the Express over the controversy over the SG’s letter. I read it and called her back to thank her,” Ramlogan said.
Seetahal’s last column, “Investigate What, Exactly?” was published in the Saturday’s Express. She had criticised a letter written by former Solicitor General Elenaor Donaldson-Honeywell SC to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar because of the lack of specificity in what should be investigated.
Ramlogan, who has been at the centre of the controversy, observed: “She was one of the few people to step forward and be in my corner. I had even asked her if she would consider assisting the committee. And she’d agreed.”
Opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley expressed shock over Seetahal’s death: “I am shocked at the latest loss of life to ongoing criminal activity in Trinidad and Tobago. My sympathy is extended to the family, friends and associates of my former Parliamentary colleague Ms Dana Seetahal.
“While the killing of any citizen is a tragedy that must never be minimised or ignored, it will be even more disturbing if it cannot be categorically determined that the assault on Ms Seetahal had nothing to do with her job as a prosecutor on behalf of all the people, in matters against the criminal element. If there is even a hint of an undischarged suspicion that the apparently well planned and clinically executed attack is related to her job for the state, then its effect would be like a dagger aimed at the heart of the criminal justice system.
“This latest callous outrage should drive home the sobering thought that no citizen is beyond the gaze of the criminal element, which is emboldened by our chronic poor detection rates and tardy ineffective responses.
“It is my hope that the security services will leave no stone unturned in their effort to understand and solve this crime and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
A statement by the ILP's political leader Jack Warner read: “The Executive and membership of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) wish to extend condolences to the family and friends of Ms Dana Seetahal SC and to the legal fraternity on her passing this morning.
“Ms Seetahal, a former independent senator, former president of the Law Association, one of the region’s leading legal minds particularly in criminal law, and a newspaper columnist, devoted her life to her profession and to service to her country. Indeed, throughout her professional career, she was one of the guiding lights whom the nation relied upon for leadership and direction on very controversial and critical issues. She was known as a fearless and forthright individual who always stood for high standards. Her passing leaves a tremendous void on the national landscape, the extent of which is beyond description.
“The brutal and brazen manner in which Ms Seetahal was executed is a jolting reminder of the tragic state of affairs in the country with regard to the crime situation and overall public safety. It is a reminder that there are very dangerous elements in our midst whose existence and activities we cannot continue to ignore or to take lightly.
“We hope that no effort would be spared in bringing the persons behind Ms Seetahal’s death to justice and that it will no longer be ‘business as usual’ in dealing with the issues of the criminal justice system.”
Seetahal was an attorney at law in private practice and formerly a lecturer at the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad, where she held the position of course director in criminal practice and procedure. She was made senior counsel in January 2006.
Before being appointed to the senate, Seetahal also served as a state prosecutor, assistant solicitor general and a magistrate.
Seetahal was first appointed to Parliament in April 2002 as an independent senator and re-appointed in October 2002 and December 2007. Her first contribution in the senate was The Appropriation Bill 2003, which she introduced on October 28, 2002.
In 2008, she opened her own private chambers "El Dorado Chambers" located in Port of Spain, Trinidad. She wrote a weekly column for the Saturday Express, having previously written for The Guardian, both local newspapers in Trinidad and Tobago.
Her first book the 'Commonwealth Caribbean on Criminal Procedure' was the first of its kind to be published. Its credibility was supported not only by her theoretical knowledge, but also her practical knowledge earned over twenty years of experience in the field: as a prosecutor for over a dozen years, as a magistrate, as a criminologist, a criminal justice consultant and finally as a law school lecturer.
The book was described as filling “a lacuna in Commonwealth Caribbean jurisprudence in that there is currently no local or regional text on criminal practice and procedure. The content of the book includes both the statute law and common law on criminal practice and procedure in most of the relevant jurisdictions, which include Trinidad Tobago, Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica and Grenada among others.
"Revised throughout, this new edition addresses the recent changes in law in St Lucia and The Bahamas bringing this popular text right up-to-date. Although written for law students, as the only book which deals specifically with criminal practice and procedure in the Caribbean, it is also a useful reference tool for criminal justice professionals."
The third edition of this book was released in July 2010, and contains a new chapter on extradition.