The inability of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to manage its own finances is one of the reasons cited for delays in the criminal justice system.
Addressing a meeting of the Joint Select Committee on Finance and Legal Affairs in Parliament yesterday, DPP Roger Gaspard, SC, said that his department's lack of financial autonomy affects its ability to properly staff its department and provide training to staff.
Asked by committee members Government Senator Michael Coppin and San Fernando East MP Randall Mitchell if his office could recruit newly graduated lawyers to fill the gaps whilst the Office of the Attorney General and Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC) addressed a long-term staffing solution, Gaspard said no.
"The DPP's Office does not have its own budget and is having problems acquiring photocopiers, paper and ink. In those circumstances and having the need to prioritise...while in an ideal world we might have outreach programmes, at the moment that is not within our capacity," Gaspard said.
Gaspard also claimed that the staff shortage was affecting his office's ability to train prosecutors and have them assigned to specialised areas of criminal law, both of which he said are needed to address the backlog of criminal cases before the courts.
"We have to increase staff and only then we would be afforded the luxury and comfort of placing attorneys in specialised areas. As it is now everybody has to do everything," Gaspard said.
Responding to Gaspard's complaints, permanent secretary in the Office of the AG, Ingrid Seerattan, said that her ministry was in the process of hiring 15 state attorneys to supplement the DPP's staff, but she noted that additional prosecutors could not be hired until new offices are provided to house them.
Seerattan noted that the DPP's new Tobago office is expected to open later this year, but that the Ministry of Public Administration was yet to approve buildings in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando that were proposed almost two years ago.
"We are working assiduously but it is impossible to say because it is not in our hands," Seerattan said when asked by chairman of the committee Independent Senator Sophia Chote for a timeline for completion of the projects.
In addition to issues with staff and financing, Gaspard also claimed that delays were caused because of the small pool of criminal defence attorneys available to accused people.
"Persons seek representation from a small pool of attorneys and once these attorneys are caught up in other trials you find that those matters are almost always continuously adjourned," Gaspard said.