Last update: 12-Dec-2013 4:50 am
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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The rush by police to charge murder suspects has led to a situation where faulty files lacking critical information are being submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions for charges to be laid. To make matters worse, those files at times fail to identify all the people involved in the crime, and as a result suspects have been freed.
Making the statement yesterday was Sophia Chote, SC, during a conference, titled “The Death Penalty in the Context of Public Security, Neither Right nor Effective,” at the Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies, St Augustine. The conference drew a large cross-section of people, including representatives from Jamaica, Guatemala, Bahamas, Grenada and Puerto Rico.
Chote, a former temporary judge and head of Alpha Chambers, Port-of-Spain, said while the murder rate in T&T was by no means the highest in the Caribbean, it was “currently generating the knee-jerk reaction of a call for the resumption of hangings.” She said it had now become common and unfortunate for the police to prepare what were called “expedited files” to be read by the DPP, who then decided how charges were to be laid.
“I say it must be very difficult for the director (DPP) to make these decisions, having regard to the fact that his assessment is stymied by the lack of a full, prepared police docket,” Chote said.
“When the DPP is given an expedited file from the police, the DPP does not see all the material collected by the police, so the DPP is looking at a file which focuses only on one particular suspect (and) may not see that there ought to be investigations in relation to other persons if he only receives an expedited file which does not contain all the information in the possession of the police.” She said expedited files were passed to state attorneys very often, and this was unfair to the lawyers and the DPP.
Another factor which hampered investigations and could also result in cases being thrown out, Chote said, was that there were no qualified attorneys in the service, who practised criminal law, to advise police during investigations. “There are attorneys within the Police Service, that’s to say officers who studied law and obtained their degrees. But to say that they are attorneys with experience in the criminal practice is a different matter,” Chote explained.
The capability of the police was also brought to the fore, as Chote urged them not to be afraid to investigate crimes with whatever depth and width were required in each case. “This requires some courage, as the investigations may sometimes take officers to places where they do not like to go,” she said. Chote said several years ago, the late Desmond Allum, SC, advised criminal attorneys not to accept cases in capital matters unless they had at least five years’ experience.
“Unfortunately, our number at the criminal bar is so stretched that if we were to do that, then these people would be without counsel.” She said what was happening was that attorneys with less than five years, in fact, represented people accused of murder at the magistrates court. The accused, Chote added, then changed lawyers at the trial stage at the High Court, which posed other challenges. October 10 is World Day against the Death Penalty.
All murder files reviewed
All murder files submitted to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions are reviewed with the investigating officers, a source at the DPP’s office said yesterday. Police are often directed to do further investigations by obtaining statements from witnesses, or getting corroborating evidence to support statements by other witnesses. Even after someone is charged, police continue to gather evidence against the accused.
In the majority of cases where people are charged with murder, the magistrate hearing the case commits the accused to stand trial before a judge and jury in the High Court, on the basis of the evidence submitted by the investigating officers.
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