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    Victims' Access to Justice in Trinidad and Tobago: An exploratory study of experiences and challenges of accessing criminal justice in a post-colonial society

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    This thesis investigates victims' access to justice in Trinidad and Tobago, using their own narratives. It seeks to capture how their experiences affected their identities as victims and citizens, alongside their perceptions of legitimacy regarding the criminal justice system. While there have been some reforms in the administration of criminal justice in Trinidad and Tobago, such reforms have not focused on victims' accessibility to the justice system. Using grounded theory methodology, qualitative data was collected through 31 in-depth interviews with victims and victim advocates. The analysis found that victims experienced interpersonal, structural, and systemic barriers at varying levels throughout the criminal justice system, which manifested as institutionalized secondary victimization, silencing and inequality. This thesis argues that such experiences not only served to appropriate conflict but demonstrates that access is often given in a very narrow sense. Furthermore, it shows a failure to encompass access to justice as appropriated conflicts are left to stagnate in the system as there is often very little resolution. Adopting a postcolonial lens to analyse victims' experiences, the analysis identified othering practices that served to institutionalize the vulnerability and powerlessness associated with victim identities. Here, it is argued that these othering practices also affected the rights consciousness of victims, delegitimating their identities as citizens. Moreover, as a result of their experiences, victims had mixed perceptions of the justice system. It is argued that while the system is a legitimate authority victims' endorsement of the system is questionable, therefore victims' experiences suggest that there is a reinforcement of the system's legal hegemony. The findings suggest that within the legal system of Trinidad and Tobago, legacies of colonialism shape the postcolonial present as the psychology and inequalities of the past are present in the interactions and processes of justice. These findings are relevant for policymakers in Trinidad and Tobago and other regions. From this study it is recognized that, to improve access to justice for victims, there needs to be a move towards victim empowerment that promotes resilience and enhances social capital. Going forward it is noted that there is a need for further research
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