Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Fourth Floor | Police Investigators must do better - attorneys

Published:Wednesday | July 12, 2017 | 7:00 AMWyvolyn Gager

The investiga-tive capability of the police force came under scrutiny at the most recent gathering of Fourth Floor minds who were asked to undertake an assessment of the effectiveness of criminal investigations and prosecutions.

The issue at heart were the failings of the justice system, which have resulted in the collapse of several high-profile cases and the acquittal of suspects when their cases get to the prosecution phase.

A useful perspective on the criminal investigation process was provided by the legal experts on the panel which featured three attorneys. (Senior police personnel were invited but did not show up). The process involves collecting evidence to determine whether, in fact, a crime had been committed and, if so, by whom. It continues with the arrest of a suspect or suspects and trial in a court of law.

Police investigators must follow the trail of facts to prepare a case file that can support a conviction in court. To be useful in proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the evidence has to be thorough and must have been gathered following certain rules and procedures.

 

FOCUS ON HIGH-PROFILE CASES

 

Adley Duncan, a prosecutor in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), is one of the end-users of police investigative work. He argues that many convictions are secured in the courts, but the media often focus on the outcomes of high-profile cases.

In recent times, several so-called high-profile cases have collapsed, triggering outrage among members of the public who reserve their harshest criticisms for the police and the ODPP, claiming sloppy work and negligence in their duty to investigate crime and put perpetrators behind bars.

In the court of public opinion, many of these accused persons were not acquitted because of their innocence but escaped responsibility for their actions because police and prosecutors did not do the hard work to prove their culpability.

Indeed, Duncan confirmed that "the investigative capacity of the police needs to be augmented".

His boss, Paula Llewellyn, DPP, has herself complained about sloppy police investigations. She made this complaint last year after securing the conviction of businessman Stephen Causewell for the 2008 murder of his girlfriend, Nardia Mitchell. From missing cell phones, to vanishing exhibits, the DPP cited the difficulties she had to hurdle in order to secure the conviction.

 

Lack of knowledge affects quality of investigations - Phipps

 

Hugh Wildman, now defence attorney, has sat in the seat of director of public prosecutions (DPP) in Grenada and was a senior prosecutor in the DPP's office. He argued that the successful management of an investigation requires planning, organisation, innovation and ingenuity.

"I was associated with cases where we had to direct, so to speak, the investigations," Wildman recalled during the most recent gathering of Fourth Floor minds.

"We did not leave it solely to the police because we know that the case requires a certain handling, and when we get to the courts, we have to deal with it in a certain way, so we did not wait until it reaches the DPP's office to get involved."

The need for better collaboration between the Office of the DPP and the police force was highlighted throughout the three-hour discussion.

However, for a department that is overworked and starved of resources, Adley Duncan, a prosecutor in the Office of the DPP, says there are thousands of cases, and it would be impossible for the office to undertake the job of directing all police investigations.

He explained, "For the most part, our office becomes involved when a police file has been completed. Sometimes the police call our office with legal questions, how do I do this parade, how do I do this investigation, how do I deal with this bit of evidence? We advise and sometimes we collaborate in those cases."

Could it be that the lack of training is also hindering the police from doing quality investigations?

Prominent defence attorney Frank Phipps, QC, who was once a prosecutor in the DPP's office, seems to think that lack of knowledge in critical areas could affect the quality of investigations.

"A policeman spends two months in training. After that, the first thing is a little lecture for three weeks or something of the sort, and then the other part of the three months they visit the courts. Then for 22 months, they go out, they call them recruits, but they are stationed as policemen with all the powers of a constable - with that training?"

 

SLOPPY POLICE WORK

 

In the current high-tech environment, when then does a trainee get exposed to basic forensic techniques? Where do they learn about the fundamentals of investigations that will help them gather evidence in a methodical manner?

Sloppy police work not only scuttles investigations, it also adversely affects the administration of justice. This is why Wildman feels strongly that every clerk of court serving in courts across the island should be a trained legal professional who ought to be consulted by the police when a matter is being investigated.

"If in the opinion of the clerk of court this matter is highly complex and requires the guidance of the Office of the DPP, then the matter will be referred to that office."

Wildman says this approach will ensure that cases are properly put together so that when they get to the Circuit Court, there are no missing elements. This would apply to all cases, including the so-called high profile ones.

"That, to me, is a critical part of your criminal administration if you want to make a significant impact on the quality of your investigation," he stressed.