DPP slams Judiciary over Dana’s files

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, SC. –

Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard says if he had used the electronic version of the committal bundle sent to his office by the Port of Spain District Court to file an indictment in the case of the murder of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal in 2014, it would have resulted in the case being quashed.

In a press release on May 7, Gaspard said the committal bundle of the preliminary inquiry included the originals of the complaint, the depositions or statements of the witnesses, the documentary exhibits, the evidence on behalf of the accused, the warrants of commitment for trial and the recognisances of the witnesses.

He said Section 25 (1, 2) of the Indictable Offences (Preliminary Enquiry) Act (IOPEA) states that the committal bundle was to be sent to him “without delay” at the end of a preliminary enquiry.

It was also his duty to keep the committal bundle until an indictment is filed in the High Court and transmit it to the Registrar of the Supreme Court.

“Sections 25 to 27 of the IOPEA do not contemplate the Director of Public Prosecutions filing a valid indictment on the basis of copies, whether electronic or otherwise.

“The consequence of not filing a valid indictment is that it would become liable to be quashed and no trial could occur. It should also be borne in mind that filing of an indictment by the DPP under section 25(3) of the IOPEA is not the inevitable consequence of a committal.”

He added that the DPP was required to consider the evidence in the bundle before determining the offences for which an indictment could be filed.

Gaspard sent the release after a statement by the Judiciary on May 4, which, in turn, was in response to the DPP’s claims that his office had not been able to file an indictment as it had not received the committal bundle up to May 3. The Judiciary, on May 4, said it had sent the completed document electronically in January.

The Judiciary said: “For matters prior to Dec 2023, Section 25 of the Indictable Offences (Preliminary Enquiry) Act requires that committal bundles are transmitted to the DPP.

“Due to its size, the committal bundle in the case of The State vs Rajaee Ali and others, which contains over 8,100 pages, was sent to the Office of the DPP via file transfer protocol (FTP) in three parts on December 20, (2023) December 21, 2023, and January 5, 2024.”

Seetahal was killed on May 4, 2014, as she was driving her Volkswagen SUV to her home at One Woodbrook Place. Around 12.05 am, two vehicles blocked the road near the Woodbrook Youth Facility on Hamilton Holder Street, Port of Spain. The occupants of the vehicles came out and shot her five times.

In 2015, several members of a Carapo-based mosque associated with the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen were arrested and charged with Seetahal’s murder. The charges against the ten accused for Seetahal’s murder were laid on July 24, 2015; the preliminary enquiry started on May 27, 2016, and was concluded around July 23, 2020; and they were committed to stand trial in the High Court by then senior magistrate Indrani Cedeno.

Many lamented the delay in justice.

In a statement on the tenth anniversary of her death, Seetahal’s nephew Devanan Persad said, “This prolonged wait for justice exemplifies the axiom ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’

“Our reality underscores the severe outcomes of under-resourced institutions tasked with administering justice, resulting in lengthy court processes, case backlogs, and, tragically, a denial of justice for those in need of closure.

“I believe the necessary resources should be promptly allocated to the relevant institutions responsible for ensuring justice is served, thereby preventing further instances of prolonged suffering and lack of resolution.”

Gaspard said since the conclusion of the preliminary enquiry, his office had made “numerous enquiries” about the delivery of the committal bundle but was repeatedly told the delay was due to its size.

He said since January 5, efforts have been made to have the original committal bundle delivered to his office but was advised the Judiciary said it could not be done before May 20.

Gaspard admitted that an electronic copy of the committal bundle was sent but said he did not understand why the Judiciary decided to take three years and five months to digitise it rather than secure the 8,100 pages in bankers’ boxes and deliver them to his office as was required by law.

“I am grateful for that copy but the provision of such a copy does not comply with the IOPEA.

“I will need to have the original committal bundle in order to fulfil my statutory duties under the IOPEA and to file a valid indictment since expediency is not a source of law.”

Newsday sent a copy of the DPP’s release to the Judiciary and requested a comment but up until press time, there was no response.