UNUSUAL DEVELOPMENT: Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard leaves the Caribbean Court of Justice, on Henry Street, Port of Spain, yesterday, after appearing before the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 coup attempt.
—Photo: STEPHEN DOOBAY
Hear Bakr in Secret
DPP to Commission:
Ria Taitt Political Editor
In an unusual development, Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard made an appearance before the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 coup attempt yesterday.
And in seeking to assist the Commission to get coup leader Yasin Abu Bakr to testify, Gaspard gave an undertaking that nothing Abu Bakr says in the coup enquiry would be used against him in the current prosecution of sedition and other charges against him.
However, the DPP also suggested to the Commission that it hears Bakr’s evidence in camera.
But Gaspard stressed he had no intention of dropping the sedition and other charges for which Bakr has to face a new trial.
Gaspard’s presence at the Commission was occasioned by a letter to him from the secretary of the Commission which referred to a letter sent by Bakr’s attorney, Wayne Sturge, to the Commission.
Sturge’s letter, dated August 30, indicated that Bakr could not testify unless and until the resolution of his trial for sedition. (Sturge’s letter was written one day after Bakr was subpoenaed to appear before the Commission.)
In his letter, Sturge pointed to three issues: a) adverse pre-trial publicity; b) to the likelihood that others may seek to use his testimony before the Commission to the detriment of the imam at this sedition trial; and c) to Bakr’s health.
Sturge’s letter, which was read out at yesterday’s sitting of the Commission by lead counsel Avory Sinanan, said that while Bakr was desirous of giving a full account of his participation in the 1990 insurrection, it was “very likely that such evidence given by him can and will be used against him at the new trial (for sedition)”.
Gaspard said he understood the anxieties expressed in Sturge’s letter, as they pertain to the issue of pre-trial publicity and to the prospect of any evidence given at the Commission being used in Bakr’s retrial for sedition and other charges.
He said Sturge obliquely suggested that the DPP may be minded to discontinue the proceedings against Bakr for sedition and other charges. “At this very early juncture, might I apprise the Commission that I have no intention of discontinuing those charges which would form the subject matter of Mr Bakr’s retrial,” said Gaspard.
The DPP said on the issue of evidence being used by the prosecution at Bakr’s retrial, Sturge’s anxieties could be allayed by his (Gaspard) giving an undertaking or by his signalling his intention to agree that any evidence given by Bakr in these proceedings only (i.e. the Commission of Enquiry) would not be used by the prosecution (in the sedition trial) to mount any application to lead bad-character evidence against Bakr.
In response to a question from Commission chairman Sir David Simmons, Gaspard confirmed he was prepared to give this undertaking in writing, a commitment which would extend not just to him but anyone acting on his behalf.
Such a letter would be delivered both to the Commission and to Sturge, Gaspard assured.
“Excellent,” replied Simmons, adding: “Thank you so much.”
Gaspard also “respectfully” suggested that on the issue of pre-trial publicity, Sturge’s anxieties could be put to rest, “if the Commission, in its wisdom, chooses to hear the testimony of Mr Bakr in camera”.
The DPP hastened to reiterate this was a matter entirely for the Commission to adjudicate on.
On this issue, however, the commissioners wanted to think further on the matter. Simmons said he wanted to hear submissions from counsel to the Commission on the issue of pre-trial publicity since he was loathe to go the route of hearing Bakr’s evidence in camera in a matter where the public interest was paramount.
Deputy chairman Sir Richard Cheltenham said the matter of hearing Bakr’s evidence in camera raised “the issue of principle of a public enquiry in which the public is entitled to hear the evidence. As (Bakr is) the principal witness, once no security issues are involved, you cannot lightly make the decision to exclude the public, even though it may turn out to be a reluctant second best”.