Justice Minister Herbert Volney has lashed out at Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard as the controversy continues to swirl around Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act. Volney, the MP for St Joseph, is accusing the DPP of not acting with haste in the Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson Piarco corruption matter. Had he done so, Volney indicated, the accused would have been jailed or freed by a jury by this time.
Q: Minister Volney, a birdie whispered to me that earlier today you tendered your resignation as a Cabinet member?
A: (In the back porch of his home at Champs Fleurs, Thursday night) That is not so and neither have I been asked to tender my resignation.
My source told me that you did so in the wake of calls by the Leader of the Opposition that you should be fired as a minister?
In fact, that Leader of the Opposition has been calling for the entire Government to resign. I think it is time he should resign himself because he has failed to properly lead the loyal Opposition.
Very well, let's get to the meat of this chat tonight. If an election is called tomorrow do you think the PP administration could survive Section 34?
(Elbows on his coffee table and hands clasped for almost the entire interview) Of course...it is a ten-day wonder, if as long.
Oh really? In spite of the perception being created by the Opposition that Government surreptitiously moved to tamper with Section 34?
Let me correct you. The Government did not move surreptitiously or surreptitiously moved to tamper or to tamper surreptitiously with the clause. The Government was and is always listening to and is mindful of public opinion no matter how small it is, because we are responsible for listening to even the minority view in the country as well as the majority view. We felt that out of an abundance of caution that the best thing to do was to remove the clause that has caused certain people in the country a bit of distress.
Why was it necessary to do so on August 31?
OK. I will tell you why. In July, there was a meeting of the inter-ministerial/judiciary task force on the criminal justice sector. It was attended by ministers of government, including the then acting attorney general, Ganga Singh. There was a dialogue with the Chief Justice and myself on the dates for the implementation and operationalising of the new system of Sufficiency Hearings to replace the old and present system of preliminary inquiries. At the end of the discussions it was agreed by all parties that the new law would take effect on January 2. It was also agreed there would be timelines and those timelines were settled largely at that meeting.
In that regard, one of the things that had to be done was that the AG had to bring a bill to amend the Supreme Court of Judicature Act for the creation of additional posts of Master in time to enable the Judicial and Legal Service Commission to advertise and appoint people to that position...
Sorry to break your trend of thought, but the Opposition is claiming that Government promised that the legislation would not be proclaimed until the infrastructure was put in place to facilitate it coming into being. Why was that clause proclaimed on August 31 and the Opposition is claiming there was a conspiracy?.
That it utter nonsense but people are entitled to their views; some of them are political views meant to embarrass the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General.
Minister Volney, why was it proclaimed on August 31?
You know unless there is certainty in introducing change and in this case unless a date was fixed certain for the operationlising of the new system no one would take preparing for it seriously. In order to facilitate that it was necessary for the legislation act to be proclaimed in part so that governance would recognise the existence of the need in a live statute, because when a statute is enacted and requires a proclamation it gets its life from the proclamation.
In retrospect Mr Volney, do you think that the Government could have gone about this matter differently?
I have to admit it was an oversight, firstly of the Ministry of Justice which was responsible for piloting the measure, and the Parliament which did not pick up on it in the debate and include in the schedule the so-called white-collar crime and the other offences that we now in hindsight realise should have been included. It was not deliberate.
Another disturbing angle in this saga Mr Volney, is the lengthy statement by the Director of Public Prosecutions who said he didn't know of the existence of that clause. Was it necessary for the Government to inform him on this piece of the legislation?
(Clearing his throat) The DPP no doubt followed the debate as he ought to have when this legislation that affected his department like no other was in progress. Neither he nor his lawyers, as far I recall, attended the parliamentary sessions.
Are they obligated to attend?
They are not obligated but it is disingenuous for the DPP to say that he did not know of the provisions because when the legislation...
Mr Minster, you know that is a serious allegation against the honourable gentleman?
Clevon, I want to make it clear that this is not a personal attack on the goodly gentleman. Not at all. But when the legislation was enacted and assented to, it was printed and it was available for all to see. There were meetings when he was clearly aware of it...in my presence.
The justice sector inter-ministerial committee of the Judiciary. He was aware of it and ought to be aware of it since the passage and enactment of the bill into the act, as it was long ago as December 18, 2011. He would have been put on notice of that fact and what I can tell you as a matter of fact, as far back as 2008 he would have been in possession of the committal of the said people who are attracting public scrutiny, that they had been committed in Piarco number two I think it was.
He has failed to file an indictment in that matter in four years. Neither has he discontinued that matter. Now if he had proceeded...
For the benefit of non-lawyers, what is the impact of that alleged failure?
It means that he sat on the cases without bringing it to trial. He could have field an indictment in December and have the matter listed in January, and those men as well as other people would have been out to trial within any ten-year period, certainly before any proclamation. So he neither filed any indictment nor did he discontinue the proceedings.
So that for him to write a letter after all this time and claim he had no knowledge that this matter was going to be affected by the proclamation, I think it is to move himself from any blame because there is enough blame to go around in this matter. Those people could have been tried and would have been by now either convicted or would have been freed by a jury.
Mr Volney, the office of the DPP is virtually untouchable...
Not virtually. It is untouchable.
If what you are saying is correct, would you advocate that perhaps legislation governing that office should be amended to prevent a recurrence of this type of situation?
No, I believe the office of the DPP should remain independent but what we need is legislation, and Section 34 would have solved that problem, which is to tell the DPP that when matters are getting to the ten-year old mark beyond which an injustice occurs to the other party, he should make up his mind whether he is going to proceed with an indictment and to prosecute or he is going to end that matter. But you cannot have people sitting and waiting over ten years for a date for trial.
That is not fair and the people who are most affected by it are the poor people in our society. This measure was meant to address that issue and to bring back the balance between the rights of the State to prosecute ad the right of the citizen to a fair trial within a reasonable time.
Has that repealing of the clause fundamentally dented the original intent of the legislation?
No. It has not. You see, the legislation is primarily to replace the archaic preliminary inquiry with a new swift sufficiency hearing. The secondary primary purpose which is Section 34, was to provide people who could no longer wait because their matters were not being listed, with a facility to go to the court directly, that they did not have to wait on the DPP to prosecute them. They could have gone directly to the high court and say "I have been languishing all these years waiting for a trial. I have not yet gotten a date. Free me because to hold me would be unjust."
And that position stands today?
That has been totally eradicated by this amendment. That is correct and that is why...
We are back to square one?
Well, in relation to that everybody has to wait no matter how long they have to wait, whether it is 27 years as that infamous case last year that was tried after 27 years...you just have to sit down and wait until the DPP decides when he is going to put you up on trial.