Wed | Jul 15, 2020

Bring reform to DPP's office

Published:Monday | October 7, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Terrence Williams, commissioner of INDECOM. - File

THE SOCIETY seems to have this insatiable appetite to set up special bodies to cover up for the shortfalls in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

We have seen where Terrence Williams, the commissioner of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), is champing at the bit, dying for Parliament to give prosecutorial powers to his office.

Similarly, Greg Christie, when he was contractor general, used every opportunity to urge Parliament to give such powers to the Office of the Contractor General (OCG). Dirk Harrison has not yet made the call, supposedly as a result of the Government already signalling it is heading in that direction.

Last week, Williams told a parliamentary committee reviewing the law which establishes INDECOM that the commission wants the express authority to, through its counsel, conduct prosecutions or retain counsel to conduct prosecutions in the court.

"Our firewall protection internally will ensure that our counsel are not involved in the investigations, apart from advising," Williams said.

Thankfully, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Cole, of the Jamaica Defence Force, was alert to the dangers of the awesome powers Williams was seeking, and cautioned the committee to steer far of the request, stressing the need for checks and balances in investigative and procedural functions.

"We run the risk of mission creep. INDECOM will then become the police officers who charge, the experts who test, ballistics experts, the coroner and end up prosecuting the case," Cole said.

He pointed out that Northern Ireland, regarded as the gold standard for independent investigation, as well as Britain, vest all prosecutorial powers in their DPPs.

The Gavel hopes that Parliament does not give in to demands from either INDECOM or the contractor general for prosecutorial powers. In fact, we believe that the Parliament should consider a significant reform of the DPP's office, making room in it for bodies such as INDECOM, the OCG and the special prosecutor.

NO WASTE OF PUBLIC FUNDS

This would not only improve confidence in the justice system, but should also remove the need for waste of public resources which would result if INDECOM or the OCG are given prosecutorial powers.

Consider, for instance, that INDECOM has a budget of $333.9 million, which is not predicated on the hiring of counsel to conduct prosecutions. Williams has said his commission could use 12 counsel on staff to conduct prosecutions. The country cannot afford this burden.

A significant reform of the DPP's office will determine whether the $268 million being spent by the taxpayers this year to keep it going is being put to good use.

Consideration should also be given to amending the Constitution to give Parliament or the Public Services Commission the power to remove the DPP for non-performance. Certainly, the DPP-until-retirement clause must go.

The proposed reform could lead to redeployment of personnel in the DPP's office as it sharpens its ability to carry out its new functions, knowing fully that there is no longer room to pass the buck and shift the blame.

The Gavel believes that instead of seeking to set up a special prosecutor, and instead of giving INDECOM and the OCG the authority to prosecute its cases, Parliament should establish a department of justice, led by a director of special prosecutions. Commissions such as INDECOM, the OCG and the special prosecutor's office would be specialised offices within this department charged with the responsibility of conducting special investigations. Firewalls should be built into this new structure to prevent the contamination of prosecutorial functions by those of the investigation arm.

TOO MUCH POWER

The Gavel need not stress how important it is that the persons investigating are not the same who are prosecuting the cases. We have seen where INDECOM, having investigated an incident, wants to send the report of its ballistics expert to court, and prosecute the case. Surprisingly, it has not asked to be the judge.

The Gavel will not bury its head in the sand and pretend the security forces are not engaged in wanton abuses of the rights of citizens daily. In fact, that is why we have always welcomed the establishment of INDECOM. However, the country risks going into dangerous waters if it has a situation where those who investigate are those who prosecute.

Especially in our context, where the DPP is seen as weak and ineffective, we may end up with the courts being flooded with cases which do not merit prosecution, simply because the investigator is of the view that he won't allow his case to die and so he sends it to the court, no matter what.

It is for that reason we are proposing that Jamaica follow the Northern Ireland model. There, the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPS) has responsibility for consideration and, where appropriate, the prosecution of all criminal cases in that nation. All cases are investigated by the police, with the PPS giving pre-charge advice to police. The PPS reviews all charges prior to submission to court, and is responsible for the production and issue of all summonses.

Just imagine a situation where the contractor general, the police, the Financial Investigations Division and INDECOM work out of one building and, having completed an investigation, follow established protocols in having files sent to the DPP, who reviews and determines whether criminal prosecution should commence.

Surely, if everyone does their jobs satisfactorily, the proposed reform would only redound to the benefit of the country. If, however, we continue with this fight-for-power, tripping-over-ego approach, the result will be fragmentation and a further reduction in confidence in the justice system.

Send feedback to thegavel@gleanerjm.com

 


The Gavel will not bury its head in the sand and pretend the security forces are not engaged in wanton abuses of the rights of citizens daily. In fact, that is why we have always welcomed the establishment of INDECOM. However, the country risks going into dangerous waters if it has a situation where those who investigate are those who prosecute.