CJ demands staff be sent to courts, DPP warns no one available in March
Chief Justice Ivor Archie has issued an ultimatum to Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, SC, that he expects all courts to be manned by prosecutors from his department.
Archie’s expectation was issued in a letter exchange between both men from December 2022 into January 2023 on the assignment and training of prosecutors. However, Gaspard in response warned that his office simply did not have prosecutors to send to the courts by March.
Sunday Newsday reported on the staff shortages at the Office of the DPP reaching critical levels, which has left the State’s criminal-law department unable to properly man all the courts in TT.
Within the last two weeks, there have been reports that prosecutors have not been appearing for some case-management conference (CMC) hearings before judges, excluding trials, and none appeared before any of the newly-appointed judges hired in December.
Among those are two who were senior prosecutors in the department. Since then, three more senior attorneys have resigned, with another expected to do so shortly to take up a position in the British Virgin Islands.
In December, Gaspard put the CJ on warning that his office “will not be in a position to have persons assigned to any new judges for the said month of January.”
He explained although the department received additional staff – 20 new attorneys, in August 2022 – because they did not have the experience to be assigned on their own in the magistrates’ courts, they would have to be trained.
Gaspard said the training would take six weeks.
On January 31, Gaspard said the CJ’s insistence that all courts be manned “was interesting,” while he thanked him for acceding to the request for the training sessions on Fridays.
He also put the CJ on notice that the situation was likely to extend beyond six weeks.
“I feel constrained to explain further that the month of February will be used by this office not only for training but for the reorganisation and reassignment of approximately 1,000 files assigned to those attorneys in the magistrates’ courts who now had to go to the assizes.
“These will have to be reassigned to the new prosecutors who are also included in the training plan.”
Gaspard said many of those cases involved complex legal and factual issues and proper reassignment will require those attorneys to prepare the relevant files which are to be taken over by the new prosecutors.
“In light of our training plan, the impending redistribution of files which will take place in February 2023, my earlier allusion to the loss of experienced prosecutors and the non-replacement of these prosecutors in the face of the number of inexperienced prosecutors who have recently joined this department, I regret to inform you that I simply do not have the prosecutors available to furnish all the courts before the month of March 2023.”
Gaspard said his responsibility was not only to the assizes but also to the magistrates’ courts, children’s courts and the Court of Appeal.
“The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is very aware of its role in the promotion of the efficient administration of justice and I agree that it is imperative that ALL (emphasis used) the respective and vicinal stakeholders ensure that ‘our expectations are aligned’ in the progressing of criminal matters.
“...Thus, I shall do everything in my power to ensure that my office endeavours to touch the outward possibility curves which our spare and inappreciable resources allow.”
While commending the DPP for his efforts to train his less-experienced prosecutors, Archie said, however, he would have preferred the DPP’s office to use the system adopted by the Judiciary of “weekends in recognition of one’s personal responsibility for professional development and so as not to affect court operations.”
On January 4, Archie said he was prepared to accede to the request to “shut down the courts on Friday afternoons,” and was prepared to accede to it in the “interest of the system and in a spirit of co-operation.”
However, Archie’s position was, “This does not mean that any of the courts should go unmanned in the meantime. Matters can and should still be addressed and disposed of (by any method) in ALL (emphasis used) of the courts.
“I know that you have some talented attorneys who will do us proud if they are allowed, as a critical part of their learning and development, to stand before the court doing cases as we did in our time, while ‘cutting our teeth.’"
Archie suggested they address some guilty pleas and plea bargains as some of the matters that could be addressed while junior prosecutors were being trained.
“In that way, we can both promote the efficient administration of justice while you develop your attorneys further in a more formal teaching setting. I would not wish for any courts to remain idle as that would only diminish public confidence in the administration of justice."
Between December and January, 14 new judges were appointed and have been assigned to the criminal and civil divisions of the Judiciary, increasing the complement of puisne judges of the Supreme Court to 42.
Of the 14, five were assigned to the Criminal Division.
Newsday was told while hiring state counsel for the department fell under the purview of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) – led by the Chief Justice – the DPP can do his own hiring through contract positions.
“There are contract posts available and all that is required is for the DPP to have the permanent secretary of the Attorney General’s office advertise the positions and he can conduct the interviews.”
This was raised in 2018 at a joint select committee (JSC) when, at the time, acting permanent secretary Nataki Atiba Dilchan said the issue of accommodation was being sorted out before vacancies in the department could be filled.
The JSC was told one of the reasons for the vacancies at the DPP’s office was not getting recommendations from the DPP.
“We are working on accommodations and then we will wait on the DPP to say, ‘Now we have space, fill the positions.’” She said with the new offices, “He can fill all his vacancies.”
In the correspondence between the two, Archie said there was a net increase of five judges in the Criminal Division, and an increased number of 13 prosecutorial teams would be required for these courts.
In his letter, earlier in January, Archie told Gaspard the ability of the department to adequately serve the courts was dependent on several factors including a collaborative approach and managing of dockets which can help to schedule cases and manage them efficiently.
He offered suggestions to the DPP in his letter, telling him they were “achievable with constructive discussion and understanding of what is required.”
Archie further suggested a meeting with the DPP and the Judiciary for a “more fulsome discussion about the way the work of the Criminal Division will be organised going forward.”
Archie also opined there were “several non-value-added activities” that remained in the system and was “anxious” that old approaches, “which are not required by law,” do not continue when legislation to remove preliminary inquiries is proclaimed.
"CJ demands staff be sent to courts, DPP warns no one available in March"