Curious case of T&T's reluctant prosecutor
The Director of Public Prosecutions has been gaining a reputation for being reluctant to prosecute. In late 2011, DPP Roger Gaspard, SC, disappointed the hopes of police investigators, and of the public, by ordering release without charge of large numbers of suspects detained under anti-gang legislation.
It remains unclear how the DPP's 2011 posture has since served to guide police toward more careful investigation, or to counsel legislators toward tighter renderings of the anti-gang laws. Meanwhile, gang activity has expanded and intensified.
In another memorable career highlight, Mr Gaspard refused the request of the 1990 enquiry to prosecute for contempt Yasin Abu Bakr, central figure in the attempted coup, who had defied a summons to appear. The result of that decision, ostensibly taken to safeguard a potential prosecution, is a loss to the enquiry, and to history, of the irreplaceable testimony of the attempted coup leader himself. The presumable gain is the facilitation of a prosecution in the works, which the DPP aims to ensure will be watertight in every least respect.
Last week, the DPP saw no prosecutable evil in the suspiciously assisted building of a church by the spiritual leader of former Prime Minister Patrick Manning. Mr Gaspard noted that the matter had over years "justifiably exercised the minds of all citizens". It had also been marked by Mr Manning's well-publicised attempts to misrepresent his personal involvement in advancing the project. Finally, however, the DPP upheld without question the police finding of "no indication of criminal misconduct", even though key figures, spiritual adviser Juliana Pena and intermediary Calder Hart, had not been interviewed.
The DPP found no cause to prosecute in yet another high-profile matter, referred by the Integrity Commission, concerning the favouritism in the granting of a radio licence, shown by the Manning administration toward Citadel Ltd and against the Maha Sabha. Explaining his reasons not to prosecute, the DPP rehearsed his own devil's advocacy of worst-case scenarios for the prosecution. He concluded that a failed prosecution could "seriously undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system," without recognising that refusal to prosecute could have the same effect.
Moreover, the DPP found that the "trauma" of a criminal trial could be too much for an ailing, but still active, Patrick Manning to bear. He also referred to "the age of the matter", though he had himself taken more than two years to announce a decision. (He had taken nearly three years to decide on the Pena church case).
The DPP's record now shows a pattern and practice of declining to prosecute all but open-and-shut cases. This must be a matter of public concern in a T&T with a decent respect for democracy which assures that no public figure, regardless of how exalted, should be held exempt from critical scrutiny of their performance of official functions.