Setting fire, then crying foul

Prime Minister Dr Rowley - Angelo Marcelle
Prime Minister Dr Rowley - Angelo Marcelle

A BLAZING heat is upon the land, and by this we refer not to the dry season, but the continued imbroglio involving the highest offices and the management of the criminal justice system.

This much we know: for any citizen to have confidence in the justice system, there cannot be the slightest hint, iota or suggestion of political interference. The law is the law. It should apply to all, regardless of political affiliation.

And the prosecutorial powers of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) should never be co-opted for the purpose of pursuing political vendettas.

If such a thing were to occur, the entire apparatus of law enforcement would be transformed into little more than a mongoose gang.

And yet our constitutional arrangements are such that the lines are blurred.

The Office of the DPP is nominally independent, yet it falls administratively under a ministry controlled by the Attorney General.

The DPP exercises sole discretion in relation to initiating and discontinuing criminal charges, yet relies on the Cabinet and Parliament for an annual budgetary allocation.

A DPP’s prosecutorial decisions are meant to be shielded, yet the post-holder depends on the State for staffing, accommodation and other practical needs.

All of this goes some way to diluting the notion of true independence, even as post-holders have exercised their functions with utmost integrity and decorum.

Justice must famously not only be done, but be seen to be done.

It is in this combustible context that we must view the conduct, in recent weeks, of the Prime Minister, Chief Justice Ivor Archie, Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC; Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC; and DPP Roger Gaspard, SC.

The awkward nature of the relationship between the State and the Office of the DPP has never been a secret, but all but one of these officials have recently paid inadequate heed, in our respectful view, to the need for sensitivity when it comes to handling this crucial part of the criminal justice system.

On Thursday, Dr Rowley sought to downplay the notion of a tiff between his administration and Mr Gaspard.

Having added fuel to the fire of controversy by very publicly questioning the DPP’s failure to move into premises provided by the State at great expense, he sought to cry foul and assign blame to every other party but himself. But the genie is already out of the bottle.

The Prime Minister and all stakeholders would do well to focus on fixing the problem, not trying to close Pandora’s Box.

To this end, we strongly welcome Dr Rowley’s commitment to a proposal to recruit prosecutors from the Commonwealth to supplement the DPP’s staff. Barring complete constitutional overhaul, which would be excessive, that is the kind of move that will take us forward.

Otherwise, the system will continue to burn while our leaders fiddle.


"Setting fire, then crying foul"

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