THE Criminal Bar Association (CBA) on Thursday joined their colleagues at the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for Attorney General Reginald Armour to retract his statement about the DPP’s office under-performing. The association also warned that if the DPP's concerns were not addressed, "it is likely that the entire criminal justice trial system may grind to a halt."
In its media release the CBA, led by Israel Khan, SC, said rather than criticising the DPP, Armour should be alleviating the problems by providing more staff.
“The CBA expresses its disappointment and disapproval with the current response of the AG who instead of accepting the bona fide complaints of staff shortages in the DPP office, has dismissed such complaints...,” it said.
On Wednesday, about 16 attorneys delivered a two-page letter to Armour’s secretary demanding an apology and a retraction. They dropped off the letter moments after DPP Roger Gaspard met with Armour for about three hours at Armour’s office on Richmond Street, Port of Spain.
Calls and WhatsApp messages to Armour this week have all gone unanswered. Gaspard on Thursday said the meeting with Armour was “productive.”
Last week, both men promised to speak on the issues in the public domain. Gaspard on Thursday reminded Newsday that he said he was going to speak “on my time.”
Last week, he said he would make a public statement after consultation with senior attorneys.
Armour said he would make statement after getting all the facts on March 11.
In their letter the DPP’s attorneys described the magnitude of their workload and the toll it took on them, both physically and emotionally.
They added that Armours criticisms had further eroded public confidence in the DPP’s office.
On March 11 Armour issued a statement via WhatsApp saying the DPP’s office was underperforming.
The comment was in response to Gaspard who, days earlier, said his office had 58 attorneys, some with little or no court experience, and was hamstrung by "an acute and chronic" staff shortage, affecting its ability to prosecute cases in all courts.
Armour said: "That is an unsatisfactory explanation for underperformance 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."
In the media release titled Criminal Bar Association (CBA) calls on AG to retract statement that DPP attorneys are underperforming, the association said it took note of the mounting demands on the DPP's attorneys and called on defence attorneys to support their colleagues particularly when they ask for adjournments to better prepare their cases.
It also warned, “The CBA wishes to warn the Attorney General that if the DPP's concerns are not addressed it is likely that the entire criminal justice trial system may grind to a halt, which would result in millions of public funds being wasted on judges, masters, public defenders but with no trials to do as the DPP attorneys will be unable to perform their duties due to limited resources.”
The CBA said while there had been increased appointments of judicial officers and a Public Defender's Office created, there had been no corresponding strengthening of the DPP’s office, resulting in an overbearing weight of increased work in High Court criminal trials. That work is now “crushing the limited number of attorneys at the DPP's office.”
On Wednesday, Newsday called president of the Law Association Sophia Chote on the ongoing issue. Chote said then that the association had to meet before issuing a statement.
Contacted again on Thursday, Chote said the council had held an emergency meeting and “took a certain decision” which she was not yet able to divulge.
The association is currently in transition with its annual general meeting (AGM) taking place on Friday at which a new executive will be installed.
Chote said the association was “very concerned about the state of affairs” and the council had considered whether an intervention was needed.
She said the decision taken at Thursday’s emergency meeting would be discussed more openly after Friday's AGM.
The new executive, who are all unopposed for their respective positions, will be led by Lynette Seebaran-Suite as president, Frederick Gilkes as vice-president and Patricia Dindial as treasurer.