The current conflict between the Attorney General's office and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions seems to have been inevitable. While both posts are charged with upholding essential elements of law in the public interest, they are expected to function with different reporting lines and responsibilities. The role of the Director of Public Prosecutions is an appointment to public office and is a pillar in the architecture of the legal system, while the Attorney General is a political appointment, reporting to Cabinet and responding to political directives and strategies.
In a perfect world, the two legal responsibilities would mesh to deliver legal direction and services to the public which would ultimately benefit all citizens. Ever since Trinidad and Tobago became a republic, however, the conflicting orientations of the two posts have become a constant flashpoint of differing opinion on day-to-day execution, most notably in recent memory between former AG John Jeremie and former DPP Geoffrey Henderson. The same dynamic has sparked differences between public servants and ministers of government throughout our independent political history, but in this matter, what's at stake is the fundamental issue of procedural law and the delivery of justice in Trinidad and Tobago.
The DPP has the responsibility for directing whether prosecutions will proceed, continue or be discontinued for any cases brought to his office, while the Attorney General is expected to, among other responsibilities, refer matters of interest to the DPP for prosecution. The inference here being that having passed cases to the DPP, these cases will be well constructed and prosecutable. The relationship between AG Anand Ramlogan and DPP Roger Gaspard seems destined for points of conflict as shown by at least two recent issues that have pointed to situations in which the Attorney General's office sought, perhaps through an excess of enthusiasm, to overinstruct and overlap the functions of the Office of the DPP.
In the Princes Town Magistrates' Court on Friday, Magistrate Indrani Cedeno was told that files for the case had been sent to Pamela Elder, SC, for legal advice. Elder is part of a team of lawyers assembled by AG Anand Ramlogan to offer advice to the police on matters arising during the state of emergency (SoE), particularly those under the Anti-Gang Act No 10 of 2011. Magistrate Cedeno pointed out to Sgt Felix Ferguson that due process is that police charge and the DPP prosecutes. Attorney for the State Richard Valere agreed with the magistrate, noting that the action was an implied insult to the legal resources of the Office of the DPP. In another recent action, DPP Roger Gaspard dismissed the cases against the group of young men known collectively as the Nelson Street 21,who were among the first citizens arrested after the imposition of the SoE.
The DPP's dispassionate evaluation of the case file for the group was instructive. Gaspard dismissed the CCTV footage as legally unrelated to the arrests and dismissed the case for which there were no witnesses or statements, a "sheer lack of evidence" as he described it. Why the police, with video footage clearly describing a pattern of casual theft on Nelson Street, did not mount a stake-out to catch the felons in the act and prosecute them after the images were captured six months ago remains a separate, though confusing matter. There should be no doubt in the minds of any clear-thinking observer that the Attorney General must pursue a mandate of maximising the impact of the prevailing SoE and justifying its continuance.
That's a logical and expected part of his role in government and as an eminent legal mind, it's to be expected that he would encourage the pursuit of criminals at this time, within the boundaries of the law. With a mandate to prosecute crime for the State, however, DPP Gaspard has an even more critical role in this process as the hand on the sword of righteous justice. His recent decision to honour the letter of the law in directing the non-prosecution of people held during the SoE is a commendable reading of his legal responsibilities and sends a clear signal that reassures the public that justice is being capably administered.