Minister in the Office of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Legal Affairs Renuka Sagramsingh-Sooklal says there may still be options available to continue proceedings against the defendants in the construction of the Piarco International Airport.
On Monday, the Privy Council held that the complaint by the accused charged in Piarco I of apparent bias against then Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls was sufficient to strike down their committal to stand trial before a judge and jury.
During a media conference at the Office of the Attorney General on Wednesday Sagramsingh-Sooklal directly responded to concerns from the public that the accused in the matter would be acquitted, noting that her office was in receipt of advice from different attorneys on the matter.
She stressed that while the advice being sought was only preliminary opinions, it was important to receive clear advice on the interpretation of the judgment.
Reading directly from advice received from attorney Kerwyn Garcia, Sagramsingh-Sooklal said there were ways in which the matter could still be heard.
“The first observation I make about the judicial committee ruling is what it quashes is the Piarco I committal decision of January 7, 2008, it does not quash the charges themselves against the accused in that enquiry.
“A discharge or a dismissal at the preliminary enquiry is not an acquittal,” Sagramsingh-Sooklal read.
“The concerns I know from the public whether everyone will walk free and what I can say at least based on the preliminary advice given is there seems to be avenues in which we can answer no to that question.”
Sagramsingh-Sooklal quoted the legal advice to outline those avenues.
“’One mechanism available to secure a determination of those charges is for the DPP to exercise his power under section 23(8) subsection D of the act and prefer indictments against the defendants... Another mechanism is for the DPP to proceed by way of fresh or second preliminary inquiry.’”
The advice added: “Neither mechanism is likely to be successfully resisted by recourse to arguments as to the abuse of process.”
Sagramsingh-Sooklal said the Office of the Attorney General was also expected to receive further advice from attorneys in London and Miami on the matter and promised to provide further updates.
Asked about the time frame for gathering the advice from the other attorneys, she said her office was working diligently and treating the matter as a priority. She also said while it was her first time being involved in the matter, the seriousness of the situation had not been lost on her.
“This matter is very urgent, I personally am never in the habit of making false promises as per a timeframe.
“I made this request on June 27 and today is the 29th and I already have preliminary advice.
“I can say I certainly understand the feelings and emotions because its the public’s money being invested in this matter. I, having been assigned this matter now, you can rest assured that I am youthful and I will do whatever it takes to ensure we are able to get the necessary advice and bring to justice the necessary people.”
Sagramsingh-Sooklal said the advice was not sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and maintained that any further criminal charges against the accused was solely his responsibility.
But a media release from the DPP Roger Gaspard, SC, on Wednesday afternoon during the media conference reported that further legal action against those involved was still being considered.
Contacted for comment after the media conference, Sagramsingh-Sooklal said she was, at the time, unaware that a media release was issued from the DPP, noting that she checked for any such statement up to the time of the press conference.
In a response after seeing the release later Wednesday, Sagramsingh-Sooklal said, "The DPP’s position is consistent with the preliminary advice I have received and I am of the view that it is reasonable for the DPP to carefully consider all relevant factors prior to making a decision as to how his office ought to proceed."