By Prior Beharry
DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, has apologised to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago for filing only 12 indictments over the past law term.
But he said this was due to several factors, an aberration and should not be considered as a “significant contributor to the criminal justice system being brought to a state of ‘near collapse’…”
Gaspard issued a release on Saturday in response to Chief Justice Ivor Archie criticism of the Office of the DPP in bringing chronic delays to the criminal justice system.
He said, “…the filing of that small number of 12 indictments in the last law term by my office represented an aberration and not a trend, bearing in mind that over the last decade approximately 150 to 300 indictments had been filed annually.”
Gaspard added, “Additionally to suggest even obliquely, that the small number of indictments filed is a significant contributor to the criminal justice system being brought to a state of ‘near collapse’ is to deliberately close one’s eyes to the blinding light of the statistics on matters still awaiting trial and for which indictments have already been filed.”
Quoting from the report Transformation for Enhanced Delivery present by Archie at the beginning of the 2018/2019 Law Term, Gaspard said it dealt with matters yet to be tried as of July 31, 2019.
Gaspard said 1,706 matters filed in the criminal high court remained pending at the end of July 2019.
He said out of the 1,706 matters pending, 960 of 56.3% were ten years or older.
Gaspard noted, “Therefore in the face of those statistics as presented by the Honourable Chief Justice as of July 31, 2019, the atypical small number of indictments filed during the last law term did not in any way prevent trial judges from getting on with the business of conducting trials in those matters and for which indictments have already been filed.”
Regarding the 12 indictments filed by his office, the DPP said several factors caused this, namely:
- Perennial shortage of legal and support staff;
- Institutional and systematic adjustments due to Covid-19;
- The reneging of the judiciary on an arrangement to accept other than electronic means, the traditional filing of about 450 committals and related indictments together with transcripts; and
- Spatial limitations which jeopardise the safe accommodation of staff and equipment which are necessary in any process, involving electronic filing of bulk documents.
Gaspard said the elevation of judges in the criminal courts to the Court of Appeal has left the criminal courts without a full complement of judges.
He said criminal matters for which indictments have already been filed make up the backlog of cases in the high court currently numbering in the hundreds.
Gaspard said, “Respectfully I submit that it is difficult to comprehend how this matter, its prevention and rectification could have been ‘beyond the judiciary’s control.’”
He noted, “Added to this, the Honourable Chief Justice has stated that 97 matters were disposed of during the last law term and he curiously equated this with the ‘clearance ratio’ of 800%.
“Assuming that victims of crime and persons awaiting trial, can even demystify this ‘clearance ratio’, that ratio, I suspect is unlikely to offer them much comfort.”
Gaspard said the Office of the DPP remains committed to the productive endeavours which can redound to the benefit of citizens of T&T.
He said, “The improvement of the criminal justice system must assume paramountcy and on this score, the Office of the DPP shall spare no effort. I am confident that the other stakeholders will do the same.”