Chapter 32 - The Limitation (Amendment) Bill of 1994

The Prime Minister of Tawa – 32

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Stephen Seymour was at his in-laws. The TV was on at full blast, but it was hard to hear anything over the din made by the children who ran in and out of the room. Stephen’s wife Laimee and her elder sister were lying on the carpet, watching TV and chatting to their mother who sat on a chair nearby.  Laimee’s elder sister had a son and two daughters, all of whom had children of their own. Stephen, Laimee’s father, younger brother and nephew sat on a sofa. A woman of around fifty who was in tears, was being interviewed on television.

‘Do you have any hope that the police will be able to apprehend the killer in a week’s time?’ the interviewer asked the woman.

‘No. I have no hope at all. What can they do in a week that they couldn’t do in the last ten years?’

‘And after the limitation period gets over, if the killer were to surface, how would you react?’

‘I would kill him. The man who killed my son should not stay alive.’

‘It’s such a joke,’ Laimee’s father declared. I’m sure we are the only country in the world which has this rule. Whoever heard of a limitation period for serious criminal offences?’

‘Japan has a similar rule even now,’ Stephen said. ‘And many continental European countries used to have this rule in the nineteenth century. Japan actually borrowed it from them.’

‘But its fifteen years in Japan, not ten,’ Laimee’s brother objected. ‘And they are going to extend it to twenty-five years.’

‘I wish they would extradite General Naranin. I don’t know why they let him go,’ Laimee’s sister said.

‘He has been away for five years now. If he keeps away for another five years, it may not be possible to punish him. Isn’t that right?’ Laimee’s father asked his audience at large.

 ‘No, I think the limitation period will apply only to the offences that took place after the new law came into effect. So, the General can be charged for all that he did at any time, except for what he did in the last two years,’ Laimee’s brother knowledgeably replied.

‘Is it time for dinner yet? Laimee’s mother asked.

‘Not yet. I’m not hungry. Are you?’ Laimee’s father asked Stephen.

‘Not very. I ate a little bit more than usual during teatime.’ They all laughed at that.

They had Nukalans for tea and Stephen had eaten six of them.

‘And he hasn’t even gone to the toilet after that, has he?’ Laimee’s sister asked, laughing at her own joke.

‘Eating three Nukalans is guaranteed to give you perfect bowel movement in three hours time.  And you ate six of them!’ Laimee’s father said. He had grown to like Stephen over the years, even though Laimee was childless, and the entire family was sure that Stephen was to blame.

‘Do you want to go to the toilet now?’ Laimee’s nephew asked, while keeping an eye on his five-year-old daughter who was darting in between the furniture.

‘No, not yet. Let’s see.’ Stephen squirmed in his seat. Each Nukalan consisted of a whole banana soaked in sweetened rice batter and baked in steam. 

The woman being interviewed was recounting how her only son had been robbed and stabbed to death almost ten years ago. Her son had been such a promising lad, full of life and energy, willing to help anyone in need. If his life had not been snuffed out so early, he would by now be married with children of his own.

‘Do you think the Supreme Court ought to have declared this law to be unconstitutional?’ the interviewer asked the interviewee.

‘I don’t know why they didn’t do that after General Naranin ran away. How could they court be so unreasonable?’

‘They are all in cahoots with each other. These judges, the army generals and the politicians,’ Laimee’s brother declared.

‘And now, the Prime Minister has appointed another one of General Naranin’s men as the Chief Justice! I don’t know what prompted him to do that.’

‘Isn’t he the senior most?’

‘He is. But he was one of the judges handpicked by General Naranin’s as soon as he came to power.’

‘Was this man on the bench which upheld this limitation law?’

‘No, he wasn’t.’

‘Oh yes, he was.’

‘No, he wasn’t.’

Laimee’s father and brother would slip into Keenda even when Stephen was present, when the debate grew more intense. The law that was being discussed had been passed by the Tawan parliament two years before General Naranin fled Tawa. Kemon Padusee was the Prime Minister and the General ostensibly had nothing to do with the bill tabled before the Parliament. The Limitation (Amendment) Bill of 1994 provided a limitation period of ten years for all criminal offences, including serious offences. Unless a charge was filed against an individual in respect of an offence within ten years of that offence taking place, that individual could never be brought to trial. General Naranin had seen the writing on the wall and the new law was meant to reduce the chances of him being brought back to Tawa to face charges arising out of anything that had been done in his name. It took three years after General Naranin fled for Horan Samiban’s government to repeal the law with retrospective effect. There would be no limitation period for criminal offences, Peelee Threeman thundered in Parliament as the government sought to undo General Naranin’s mischief. However, the Supreme Court promptly ruled that the repealed law had been validly passed and could not be annulled with retrospective effect. It would apply to all offences committed during the five years when it was in force. Which meant that if General Naranin was to be tried for the offences he committed during his last two years in power, the charges against him had to be filed within the ten-year limitation period.

‘Maybe I do need to go to the toilet,’ Stephen declared to the merriment of everyone in the room. He went off to the squatting-style toilet at the back of the house. He did not mind. He was wearing a sarong and squatting to shit was not a problem.

Stephen had managed to interview Rhymala a month ago. And what was better, he been promised an interview with Hanoleeyan tomorrow before Hanoleeyan went back to Eko. So far, not a single foreign journalist had managed to interview Hanoleeyan. If the SFF kept its promise, it would be a coup for Stephen. An interpreter was on standby. Stephen was not sure what he was going to ask Hanoleeyan. It was very unlikely that Hanoleeyan would open up to him and tell him his life’s story. But what the heck - he had nothing to lose. He would give it his best shot, get a few photographs and – presto – with some luck it could be the scoop of his career.

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More by :  Vinod Joseph

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