Criminal Bar head: DPP must give reasons for not occupying new office

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Israel Khan,SC. –

HEAD of the Criminal Bar Association Israel Khan is calling on Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard to clear the air on the reasons why his office has not been able to occupy a multi-storey building on Park Street, Port of Spain, which has cost the state millions in rent.

Speaking with Sunday Newsday, Khan said: “The DPP must explain to the nation why he decided not to use the building after the Government spent millions of dollars to retrofit the building. He needs to give a good explanation.”

Sunday Newsday was informed the Special Branch of the police service has identified several security risks at the site and made recommendations to instal bullet-proofing on the eastern side, and other security measures.

At a PNM public meeting at the Barataria Community Centre on Thursday, the Prime Minister raised the issue of a three-year delay in occupying the building because of various requests to make it more secure.

Dr Rowley said the space was sourced by the government for the DPP’s Office but remained unoccupied.

He said in addressing issues at the DPP’s Office, particularly its lack of space to accommodate lawyers, Cabinet decided to rent the building, which is shared with Republic Bank.

Rowley said the landlord had told the government to stop making adjustments as the three-year lease is coming to an end.

On Friday, Gaspard said he was not going to comment on the issue until after receiving advice. Two days before,  in a radio interview, Gaspard had hinted at the collapse of the criminal justice system as his office was severely understaffed to cope with the workload. He also spoke of his decision to discontinue the 18-year-old criminal case against former prime minister Basdeo Panday, his wife, former minister Carlos John and businessman Ishwar Galbaransingh linked to the Piarco Airport construction project.

Newsday contacted head of Special Branch Snr Supt Alicia Henry for comment, but she directed all questions to Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher. Calls to the commissioner went unanswered.

During a media conference on Friday, Opposition Senator Wade Mark accused the Prime Minister of attacking the DPP supposedly for failing to prosecute his political opponents.

“Is he trying to frustrate Gaspard into leaving the Office of the DPP? What is the objective of the Prime Minister?”

Last Wednesday Gaspard explained that his office was hamstrung by “an acute and chronic” staff shortage that affected its ability to prosecute cases in every court in the country.

He said during a radio interview that his office has 58 attorneys, including some with little or no court experience, adding that a Cabinet note of 2013 proposed the DPP should have 137 attorneys.

In an apparent response, Rowley said: “None of us in this country have all that we need. But you got to make the most with what you have.”

Commenting on the lack of attorneys at the DPP’s office, Khan said the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, headed by Chief Justice Ivor Archie, should explain why there is a lack of attorneys at the DPP’s office.

“How can you have judges increasing but no competent attorneys to prosecute matters? What is happening sends a signal to the criminal elements that if they get caught they can’t be prosecuted.”

Contacted for comment, Attorney General Reginald Armour said he will issue a statement next week.

Armour said he was not one to shoot from the hip and wanted to get all the necessary information before making any comments, especially since the rental agreement predates his appointment as AG. He added that he has been gathering information since Friday, and some information he requested was more difficult to get than the rest.

Sunday Newsday also made attempts to call former AG Faris Al-Rawi, under whose tenure the building was leased, but calls went unanswered.