Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard SC is calling on Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi to provide more support for his office. He was speaking during a panel discussion on the Criminal Procedure (Plea discussion and plea agreement) Act of 2017 at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain on Tuesday.
The call came after Al-Rawi spoke about the DPP’s role in the abolition of preliminary inquiries which, Al-Rawi said, could eliminate more than 25,000 cases from the magistrates’ courts.
“Our ambition must never outpace the support systems,” Gaspard said. “I heard the AG indicate that he would be making certain changes legislatively, and those changes may result in 26,000 cases being taken out of the system. If it is those matters would be taken out of the system and placed at the doorstep of the DPP’s office, all I ask is that the office receives certain attention. Otherwise, the AG’s ambition would remain only that.”
The call came along with a list of questions on the act which sought to clarify its operationalisation.
He questioned police prosecutors’ ability to properly advise and operate based on their knowledge of the law, and even questioned if accused are being given the proper information when first facing a magistrate.
“The legislation places significant responsibility on the shoulders of the prosecutors, and that necessarily includes the shoulders of the police prosecutors.
“Are police prosecutors sufficiently au courant with the law so as to ensure that pleas that they may wish to discuss, comply with the constituent elements of the respective offences? Is TT ready for a situation where police are charged and tasked with this particular responsibility receiving the requisite training?”
Gaspard read from section 12 of the act which speaks to an accused person being advised by a judge, whether represented by an attorney or not, of their right to apply for a plea bargain.
“How often is that done?” he asked.
“Let us look at it now from the vantage point of accused people. Accused people not trained in law, not being properly advised – even if they were to hear about plea bargaining, do accused people know that certain discussions they have by way of plea discussions cannot be used against them?
“Are we in a position to gamble with the perception of the public in terms of public confidence in the administration of justice?”
Al-Rawi said, in a question and answer session, that along with the public defenders’ office being built in just over a month, a new DPP’s office will be built within the next two months.
“We are hoping that in the shadow of the DPP’s office some of the training of police prosecutors could be attended to.”