What started with complaints by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) about inadequate staff and other conditions at his office that could lead to the collapse of the criminal justice system earlier this month has now deteriorated into a public imbroglio.
The DPP, Senior Counsel Roger Gaspard, has come under fire from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Attorney General Reginald Armour and now Chief Justice Ivor Archie, who publicly chastised him in a release on Friday night.
Archie, like Armour, has blamed the staff crisis at the DPP’s office and the negative impact on the criminal justice system on Gaspard.
Archie, also chairman of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC), in a statement on the Judiciary’s website, said he felt compelled to make a statement to address “misconceptions that are circulating in the public domain regarding the criminal justice system.”
He accused the DPP of performing poorly in filling vacancies in his department and putting forward names and requisite appraisals to promote individuals.
But according to the head of the Criminal Bar Association, Senior Counsel Israel Khan, the situation has degenerated into “political bacchanal and commess.”
While Khan agreed that Gaspard does have questions to answer, he said how the issue is unfolding in the public domain is unacceptable.
Chief Justice Ivor Archie
Israel Khan: DPP needs to answer, but CJ’s move unfortunate
Referring to Rowley’s concerns over the DPP’s refusal to relocate his office and occupy a building that had been outfitted to the tune of $43 million, Khan said the DPP has a moral obligation to speak out as to why he did not enter that building.
“He must give an explanation. If the taxpayers spent $43 million, you must give a reason as to why you are not occupying that building,” Khan said.
He also felt that “it is very unfortunate that the Chief Justice (CJ) jumped into this issue at this point in time and chose to do it the way he did it. The country will always be sceptical of what the CJ has to say in relation to matters like this because he is obligated to the Prime Minister for not triggering (section) 137 in order to ascertain whether he misbehaved in public office, so he is obligated to the PM.”
In July 2019, Dr Rowley failed to initiate impeachment proceedings against Archie after disregarding the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago’s (LATT) advice to invoke section 137 proceedings against the CJ.
The LATT complaint to Rowley highlighted several allegations against Archie, including trying to fast-track Housing Development Corporation (HDC) applications for various people. Archie denied the claims.
An upset Khan felt the matter was being handled poorly, and in the meantime, “citizens of the country are suffering, crime is out of control, murders taking place left, right and centre, and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the Judiciary and they cannot prosecute people even if they are invited.”
Khan warned, “Criminals will get the impression that the system is impotent and they will continue to do whatever they are doing, so we are in a total mess. The criminal justice system will come to a halt if the politicians continue to be lackadaisical and try to put blame on each other.”
Asked if the association felt it was a calculated attack on the DPP to suspend or remove him from office, Khan said, “The DPP is constitutionally protected. It would be very difficult to oust the DPP from that office. He is a very strong person, but strong as he is, he might get fed up and just resign...I do not know, it is only so much a person can take.
Khan said he felt “It is politics that is playing above everybody’s head.”
The Criminal Bar Association will be meeting with its members over the weekend and intends to release a statement on the matter tomorrow.
Prof Hamid Ghany–CJ should not have intervened in this impasse
Prof Hamid Ghany, who specialises in Constitutional Affairs and Parliamentary Studies, said the Chief Justice should not have intervened in this impasse between the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions. “His intervention has now made a very strong case for separating the two roles of the Chief Justice, namely as a jurist and as head of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission.
“He is speaking in his capacity as chair of the JLSC and he should have exercised better judgement than to go public on a matter that now requires more light than heat by adding his own heat.”
Ghany said his comments would have been better delivered behind closed doors in a face-to-face meeting with the DPP. “Now, the DPP has to decide whether he will respond to the CJ in public or demand a private meeting with the CJ and make it public that he has demanded such a meeting,” Ghany added.
He felt it is more than curious “that all of a sudden the DPP is taking so much public heat from the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and the Chief Justice ever since he discontinued the charges in the Piarco 3 case even though those public comments by the PM, the AG and the CJ are all unconnected to that case.”
Om Lalla: It highlights a disconnect within the criminal justice system
Attorney Om Lalla said the dispute playing out in the public domain highlights a disconnect within the country’s criminal justice system. Lalla felt the system is being undermined, especially during a time when there is already low public confidence.
“Once public offices that are meant to be independent–the Judiciary and the DPP’s office are in any way interfered with, even if it’s the perception of that discontent, where that discontent comes up (in the public domain) it’s dangerous. These offices should always be allowed, at least in the public’s eyes, to be maintained without any perception of interference,” he said.
Avory Sinanan: Appoint a task force to probe the matter
Senior Counsel Avory Sinanan, a civil attorney, weighed in on the ongoing controversy, saying there needs to be a thorough investigation into the matter. He suggested a committee should be appointed to do this.
He said, “Mr Gaspard has a reputation for being very straightforward. I don’t think he will be shilly-shally in terms of his complaints, and I think that really what needs to be done is for a proper investigation to take place to determine the facts.”
“I think the time has come to go back to basics and appoint a committee to look at it from all sides and see how best the criminal justice system can be harnessed, what is really needed having regards to Mr Gaspard’s complaints, having regards to the PM’s utterances, having regards to what is being said by the Chief Justice, and having regard to what is being said by the Attorney General, otherwise we are in a quicksand of rumours and conjecture.”
Sinanan suggested an independent task force be appointed to help to quell the flying rumours.
Martin Daly: Allegations in the public need to be investigated
Senior Council Martin Daly also shared the view that all allegations on the matter in the public domain need to be investigated.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley
‘DPP could be booted from office’
Meanwhile, senior legal sources are questioning whether a plot is afoot to oust Gaspard.
A senior legal source told Sunday Guardian that the imbroglio stemmed from the decision by Gaspard to discontinue high-profile corruption charges against United National Congress (UNC) rivals of the ruling People’s National Movement.
The legal source revealed that the frontal attack by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Attorney General Reginald Armour, and Chief Justice Ivor Archie to publicly admonish Gaspard in response to staff shortage complaints at the office of the DPP is not coincidental but a “calculated” strategy to force Gaspard out of office.
“There is much more to the imbroglio than an empty building and vacancy filling...The matter has turned into a public spat because the Government has egg on their faces due to certain court matters going downhill,” one senior legal source revealed.
Dr Rowley, during a political meeting on March 9 claimed that while millions were spent on the new office, the DPP’s failure to move in was a waste of taxpayers’ money.
It is unknown whether Dr Rowley, as head of the National Security Council, was privy to the Special Branch report that suggested safety requirements for the new Office of the DPP located at Park and Henry streets, Port-of-Spain.
Three days later, the AG doubled down on Rowley’s attack stating that the Office of the DPP was underperforming.
Attorney General Reginald Armour
Chief Justice Ivor Archie ignited the public spat on Friday, stating that the debate has reached a stage where “I must speak” and levelled fresh claims that the staff crisis at the Office of the DPP was due to Gaspard’s lack of cooperation and action.
Legal sources said recent issues involving the DPP emerged following the move by Gaspard to drop corruption charges against former attorney general Anand Ramlogan, SC, and attorney Gerald Ramdeen in 2022.
Gaspard told Chief Magistrate Maria Busby-Earle-Caddle that his decision to drop the charges against Ramlogan and Ramdeen followed revelations by King’s Counsel Vincent Nelson that he was given the indemnity agreement in return for a statement against the duo.
Nelson, Gaspard further revealed, has since filed a claim against the State for breach of the indemnity agreement and was not willing to testify until the matter concluded.
The move by Gaspard to drop the charges against Ramlogan and Ramdeen caught the Government off-guard, with Armour indicating that he would pursue all possible avenues, not limited to civil proceedings, to recover any proceeds of the crimes allegedly committed.
“The DPP rejected all attempts to involve his office with the indemnity agreement. The DPP refused to associate himself or proffer advice and insisted that the matter did not fall under his purview. The DPP’s straightforward approach was considered unwelcoming,” according to senior legal sources.
The decision by Gaspard to withdraw the decades-old corruption charges against former prime minister Basdeo Panday, his wife Oma, former government minister Carlos John and businessman Ishwar Galbaransingh was another upset for the Government, sources added.
“The decision to drop charges is entirely at the discretion of the DPP. Political pressure and or interference cannot be allowed to influence matters. The imbroglio is unwarranted. It does not augur well to have three of the country’s highest officeholders attacking the DPP in public, “ the senior legal source said.