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DPP trashes AG’s plans for plea bargaining legislation

Sunday, June 15, 2014
Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan chats with DPP, Roger Gaspard during the Dana Seetahal Symposium Re-engineering the Criminal Justice System at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Sir Arthur Lewis institute of Social and Economic Studies and Foundation for Politics and Leadership at the Noor Hassanali Auditorium yesterday. PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan’s push for plea bargaining legislation was effectively shut down by Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard. The men clashed yesterday at the Dana Saroop Seetahal Symposium: Re-engineering the Criminal Justice System, at the Noor Hassanali Auditorium, St Augustine. Ramlogan, in a subsequent interview, said that the draft legislation was expected to be completed by the end of this month.  



While Ramlogan made a case for the legislation, which he claimed Seetahal was working on for the last six months, Gaspard—who addressed the full auditorium directly after him—bashed the idea of plea bargaining legislation. Ramlogan said his “dear friend” Seetahal was commissioned by his office and was “working assiduously” on the draft legislation. He said there was also a symposium with the US. 


Seetahal was killed at the end of March and while investigations are continuing into her shooting, the legislation was passed to head of the Criminal Bar Association, Senior Counsel Pamela Elder, for completion. “In the United States of America, 90 to 95 per cent of all criminal cases do not in fact reach trial. Ninety to 95 per cent of the cases in the United States of America are dealt with at the plea bargaining stage,” he said.


“The conversational approach toward litigation is an ideal one whose time has come and is long overdue,” Ramlogan said. But Gaspard, who took the podium moments later, said it was not smart or feasible to transplant foreign legislation into the existing system.


“Common sense ought to suggest to you that the reason why plea bargaining has found such a fecund soil in the jurisdiction of the United States is because the inclination of persons charged with criminal offenses to plead guilty or cop a plea as the Americans like to say...has a direct relationship with the strength of the evidence,” he said. “How can we in this jurisdiction shout about the benefits of plea bargaining out of one side of our mouths and out of the other we talk about low detection rates,” he said.


Gaspard said while he too could call on the group to take “deep, philosophical meanderings” and “theoretical postures,” they were not there for that. “The problems that beset the criminal justice system fall outside the four corners of procedural limitations. Obviously, there are many substantive issues that need to be addressed,” he said. He reminded the gathering that the symposium was supposed to address and tackle procedural stumbling blocks in the criminal justice system.


Gaspard said criminals knew the system was blocked and he questioned why then would any criminal seek a plea bargain. He called for more conversation on whether it was advisable to use police officers as prosecutors and made the link between the sluggish detection rate and police officers being made to act as prosecutors. 


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