ATTORNEY GENERAL Reginald Armour says the call by Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard for more staff "is an unsatisfactory explanation for under-performance of the DPP."
Armour, the line minister for the Office of the DPP, raised the issue of the DPP's under-performance for the first time publicly in a WhatsApp response to queries from the media on the empty building on Park Street, Port of Spain rented by the government for the Office of the DPP. The building has remained unoccupied for almost three years because of security concerns raised by the police Special Branch.
Armour said he intends to issue a full statement on the matter later this week.
"The issue of a lack of resources impacts all of our institutions and is not limited to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The DPP is not being deliberately starved of resources, as indeed the reality of the unoccupied Park Street Office shows. I can see no political benefit in the Government deliberately under-resourcing the DPP.
"That is an unsatisfactory explanation for under-performance of the DPP. Other critical arms of the criminal justice system are also operating below capacity, yet far more effectively. We need to critically examine what are the systemic issues that are hampering the performance of the DPP’s office," he said.
Last Wednesday, DPP Roger Gaspard said his office was hamstrung by "an acute and chronic" staff shortage that affected its ability to prosecute cases in every court in the country.
He said during a radio interview that his office has 58 attorneys, including some with little or no court experience, adding that a 2013 Cabinet note of 2013 proposed the DPP should have 137 attorneys.
In an apparent response, Prime Minister Rowley, at a political meeting in Barataria on Thursday, said: “None of us in this country have all that we need. But you got to make the most with what you have.”
Rowley also said then the government had sourced the building on Park Street for the DPP's Office but it remained unoccupied because of various requests to make it more secure.
On Friday, Gaspard said he was not going to comment on the issue until after receiving advice.
Sunday Newsday was informed the Special Branch had identified several security risks at the site and recommended bulletproofing on the eastern side and other security measures.
Meanwhile, head of the Criminal Bar Association Israel Khan is calling on Gaspard to clear the air on the reasons why his office has not been able to occupy the building, which has cost the state millions in rent.
Speaking with Sunday Newsday, Khan said: "The DPP must explain to the nation why he decided not to use the building after the Government spent millions of dollars to retrofit the building. He needs to give a good explanation.”
Commenting on the lack of attorneys at the DPP’s office, Khan said the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, headed by Chief Justice Ivor Archie, should explain the shortage.
“How can you have judges increasing but no competent attorneys to prosecute matters? What is happening sends a signal to the criminal elements that if they get caught they can’t be prosecuted.”
Newsday contacted head of Special Branch Snr Supt Alicia Henry for comment, but she directed all questions to Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher. Calls to her went unanswered.
During a media conference on Friday, Opposition Senator Wade Mark accused the Prime Minister of attacking the DPP supposedly for failing to prosecute his political opponents.
“Is he trying to frustrate Gaspard into leaving the Office of the DPP? What is the objective of the Prime Minister?”
Sunday Newsday also tried to call former AG Faris Al-Rawi, under whose tenure the building was leased, but calls went unanswered.