The law sets boundaries, but boundaries are often tested by the force of circumstances and personality differences between officeholders. Attorneys General (AGs) of both political parties have been involved in public disagreements over the last 20 years; between the AG and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the AG and Chief Justice (CJ), the DPP and the CJ, and between the CJ and the Prime Minister. Some have spilt over into the public domain. In such circumstances, officeholders need to exercise self-restraint and consider the wider national interest.
Many commented incisively on last week’s article which sought to portray the current CJ/AG/DPP “disagreement” as an organisation problem twined with personality differences. Only information available in the public domain is used in this and the previous article and I have had no conversation with the DPP, his staff, or connected parties.
A senior counsel supported the AG’s position by invoking S12(3) Judicial and Legal Services Act which makes it clear that the DPP is a Chief Legal Officer. It also says that Chief Legal Officers are permanent secretaries for the purposes of section 85 of the Constitution. Therefore, the DPP as an accounting officer can hire contract officers to do the job giving them another name as is done in other state departments. The only question is whether having the DPP or the PS contract with staff is more prudent.
Concerning the funding, the senior counsel argued that many state organs do not have funding for all legal services but still retain outside lawyers with the permission of the AG because of the critical nature of the legal services required. Further, external attorneys have been contracted in the past to do criminal cases for the DPP. Notable examples of this practice were Israel Khan, Dana Seetahal, Gilbert Peterson, Elaine Green, and Rangee Dolsingh. Mr Dolsingh worked in the department for years before being appointed to the service and rose to Deputy DPP.
On this construction, the DPP is being unreasonable and budget issues do not matter as no reasonable request will be refused by the AG. Therefore, it follows that the AG is the DPP’s boss and the DPP must ask the AG for additional resources. In practice, this must be a source of confusion, if not friction as the DPP’s budget is included in the AG’s departmental budget. In practical terms, this makes the DPP (who is meant to be independent) subservient to the AG. What other influences might the AG bring to bear in these circumstances?
There are countervailing arguments. First, the DPP has human resource issues (inadequate staff, not sufficiently trained) and no internal capacity to address same. One successful private practice attorney argued that the DPP cannot be both prosecutor and human resource manager simultaneously. Who is doing the personnel functions and recruitment as a senior legal officer? To serve as both lawyer and manager is to set him up for failure. He recommended that the DPP’s Office should have a PS or manager (or whatever is appropriate terminology) to assume the responsibility for managing the Office including physical accommodation equipment technology and training (non-legal).
Second, there is a staff complement agreed by Cabinet some ten years ago which the DPP has not been able to fill because he does not have the budgetary resources to do so. The Cabinet note making that recommendation should have been supported by a report from the CPO’s office recommending the same after a manpower needs assessment. The issue, therefore, is not about hiring high-priced private attorneys to temporarily fill a manpower gap. Nor is hiring contract officers the best long-term solution. While it may satisfy an immediate need for warm bodies, it causes a dysfunctional situation by creating two classes of officers with different remuneration terms.
The DPP’s office has a heavy and important workload especially given the current crime situation. It is an organisation that must be built for continuity to meet the current demands rather than finding a temporary workaround that only alleviates the problem in the short term. Therefore, while the law may equate him with a permanent secretary thus giving the DPP the power to hire, the issue goes beyond the power to do an act. Is it the best fix for the DPP’s office and how that office organisation is structured? A more permanent solution is required as failure to address this will have longer-term consequences for the justice system.
The CJ ought to be sensitive to this issue especially since he is on record as saying that the current case backlog will take years to clear without adding new cases, even though the CJ’s bench is bigger than the DPP’s office and the CJ’s budget is segregated and a prior claim on the resources of the State. Further, the DPP office is a “recruitment pool” for judges since more than ten per cent of the current bench have served in the DPP’s office. A poorly performing DPP’s office weakens the criminal justice system, which is in no one’s interest.
The Civil Service has many organisational dysfunctionalities which reduce its operational effectiveness. The issue here is not the law but short-sightedness which can only be corrected by mature leadership and management.
Mariano Browne is the Chief Executive Officer of the UWI Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business.