DPP ordered to inform blogger on request for public records of closed high-profile cases

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

DPP Roger Gaspard, SC. –

A HIGH COURT judge has ordered the Director of Public Prosecutions to inform blogger Vishal Persad whether he has approved or would refuse a freedom of information application for the criminal investigative files of notorious criminals or those perceived to have been at the time the authorities were investigating them.

The order was made on May 29, by Justice Devindra Rampersad in an application filed by blogger and social activist Vishal Persad.

The DPP has 21 days from the date the judge made the order. In a freedom of information request, Persad requested the investigative files of drug kingpin Dole Chadee, Jamaat al Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr, former chief justice Satnarine Sharma and former commissioner of police Randolph Burroughs from the police.

He was told that “thorough and diligent searches were made for the requested information, however, searches proved futile” so his requests were denied.

In September 2023, Persad then made similar requests to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for documents relating to all criminal charges brought against the four.

He received only an acknowledgement from the DPP’s secretariat.

On January 2, Persad filed a judicial review application against the DPP.

On February 12, Justice Devindra Rampersad granted him leave to pursue his lawsuit which asked for an order to compel the DPP to decide on his request for information or provide the information.

There was no response by the DPP to the claim filed by Persad as neither a defence nor affidavit was filed. The DPP was ordered to pay Persad’s legal costs of $10,000.

The request for information is part of Persad’s Millennials for Change freedom of information project.

Persad’s aim for Closed Cases is “for the dead to tell the country the truth” and to “help foster transparency and accountability in law enforcement.”

In his application, he said he believed releasing the files would allow the public to understand better how investigations are conducted and evidence is gathered.“This will help ensure the public is informed about the true facts of the case, rather than relying on rumours or speculation.

“The disclosure of investigative files can also help law enforcement learn from past mistakes and improve their investigative techniques.

Persad believes disclosure of the files relating to the four matters which formed the basis of the group’s first request would be of considerable public interest. “Understanding the actions of prominent individuals who were investigated and charged is crucial for historical accuracy and for transmitting important lessons to society.“…This project is crucial in fostering transparency and accountability in the criminal justice system, even after the individuals involved have passed away” and “hopes this disclosure will contribute to building trust in our legal system by demonstrating its commitment to fairness and impartiality.”

Persad is represented by attorneys Keron Ramkhalwhan, Shalini Sankar and Annessia Gunness.