The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has expressed “grave concern’’ about the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) 2011 Act that was recently proclaimed in relation to a matter that has been going on for a long time, and was considering his options as it relates to the Piarco prosecutions.
The issue of Constitutional reform must take centre stage now and while independent office holders must be protected from interference from the the political directorate, there must be proper and transparent checks and balances for these office holders as well.
One such is the Office of the DPP. There still looms the debate on the inviolability of the DPP with respect to the law. Under our current constitutional arrangements, office holder has the power not to prosecute himself in any circumstance whatsoever, making him virtually above the law—an anomaly that is very difficult to digest in such a thriving and progressive democracy.
According to how the law and processes work, the Police investigate and then give their findings to the DPP who will consider whether charges can be laid.
The issue of prosecution and non-prosecution is cause for concern.
Crime Watch host Ian Alleyne was arrested on April 19, stemming from the broadcasts on his show on October 25 and 26, 2011, during which the rape of a mentally challenged teenager was allegedly aired.
The Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, thereafter wrote the DPP asking him to investigate whether the video clips were in breach of the Sexual Offences Act.
The supposition is that the DPP advised that charges can be laid under Section 32(2) of the Sexual Offences Act.
In other matters it is a bit concerning as to the status of the following:--
On June 7, 2010, the Integrity Commission made a report to the DPP under Section 31 of the Integrity in Public Life Act for two senior Cabinet Ministers under the former administration who had failed to fulfil their duties under the Integrity in Public Life Act.
The Maha Sabha radio licence issue has been referred to the DPP over two years now for action and we are told by the current officer holder, that he is still engaging advice of external counsel which is private and confidential.
The SDMS applied for a radio licence twice and on both occasions never got a response. In stark contrast, PNM financier and now Mayor of Port of Spain, Louis Lee Sing obtained approval for one in two days for Citadel Ltd’s I95.5FM on August 8, 2006. This was approved by the cabinet of former prime minister Patrick Manning.
The Maha Sabha sought legal recourse all the way to the Privy Council and won. The Law Lords stated:
“There was conspicuous failure to deal with the SDMS application over three years. There was unexplained and unjustified discrimination in favour of another applicant. CITADEL”
When people were arrested under the Anti-Gang Legislation, the law is very clear in making provisions for suspects to be incarcerated for 120 days without bail.
The DPP moved with speed to vindicate these individuals. Has the Head of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission asked about the other matters before this looming for nearly two years?
The Office of the Attorney General filed a lawsuit in the Port of Spain High Court against former Udecott head, John Calder Hart, over the $1 billion spent on the Brian Lara Cricket Academy and over the construction of the Ministry of Legal Affairs tower in which Hart’s in-laws allegedly had an interest.
It was revealed at the press conference that the Office of Attorney General was expected to file other lawsuits against the former directors of other State bodies such as the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), Petrotrin, T&TEC and eTeck for similar squandermania. Under the Constitution, the Office of the Attorney General has the power to initiate civil proceedings.
The civil lawsuit came in lieu of the DPP’s prosecution of Mr Hart for lying under oath to the Uff Commission of Inquiry in denying that his in-laws were the contractors.
The DPP has defended his inaction by claiming to have insufficient evidence to proffer criminal charges against Mr Hart, despite Malaysian birth certificates and marriage certificates showing that Calder Hart was linked through the blood ties of his wife.
Back in June, protesters who were blocking the entrance to the Parvati Girls’ Hindu College in Debe, were physically removed by law enforcement agents.
The women, members of the Highway Re-route Movement were guilty of obstructing a public place; causing a commotion; causing a public disturbance and disturbing the peace. It is quite strange why the DPP did not instruct the police to lay charges as they were not on public ground.
The protesters were seen on television being carted off by police officers and questions remain why didn’t the DPP do anything in terms of instructing the police to lay charges.
We may be in need of constitutional reform for some kind of panel to supervise and monitor the day-to-day work of independent office holders like the DPP.
It cannot only be the court of public opinion who evaluates someone with such autonomy and powers.
Why not create a council of prosecutors similar to some countries such as Serbia, Portugal, Moldova so that we do not have to depend on the decision of one person?
I believe as practised in the US, all offices should have term limits and there must be a proper system of supervision for all independent offices while they remain insulated from political interference.
How can an independent office be monitored so that all have confidence with its delivery of services?
This is the question that the political scientists, constitutional experts, public law experts and those doctors of jurisprudence need to address.
Over to you—Dr Hamid Ghany, Prof Selwyn Ryan, Prof John La Guerre, Justice Rolston Nelson, Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron, Gladys Gafoor.
• Dugan Schroeder has a BA in English and an MA in Political Science. He is a freelance writer, part-time lecturer and currently pursuing doctoral studies.