Gaspard: DPP’s office has under 50% of staff it needs

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

DPP Roger Gaspard – Newsday File Photo

DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, has admitted there are “acute and chronic” staff shortages in his office.

On Wednesday, during a radio talk show, Gaspard said he was “frustrated.”

In February, Newsday reported that staff shortages at the DPP’s office had reached critical levels, which resulted in its being unable to properly man all the courts.

In response to this, Gaspard received an ultimatum from the Chief Justice that he expected all courts to be manned by prosecutors.

CJ Ivor Archie’s expectation was issued in letters exchange between the two from December 2022-January 2023 on assigning and training prosecutors. In response Gaspard warned that his office simply did not have prosecutors to send to the courts by March.

On Wednesday, Gaspard said it has been extremely challenging for him.

He also admitted he had no control over the appointment of staff at the DPP’s office. That was the sole remit of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission – headed by the Chief Justice.

“I do not hire.”

And while prosecutors for his department can be hired on contract, that too, he said, was not up to him, but the Attorney General’s office and the Chief Personnel Officer.

Gaspard explained that the DPP was an ex-officio chief legal officer, but to hire anyone, the office-holder would also need to be a chief financial officer.

He also said a decision was made to move away from the position of prosecutors on contract.

“That doesn’t sound right, that people in an independent office have a contractual bond to the executive in the form of the AG and the CPO.”

He said he wanted any legal officer in the DPP’s department to come via an appointment from an independent body “that couldnt be besmirched.”

Asked how close to collapse the criminal justice system was, he could not say.

But he questioned whether it was wise of those in authority to “outfit one player” with more courts and more judges, but not increase the number of prosecutors.

Gaspard again referred to Cabinet Minute No 1450, dated May 23, 2013, and approved on May 29, 2013, which proposed a new organisational structure for the DPP’s department, providing for 137 attorneys.

He said, “Today, in 2023, the DPP’s office has 58 attorneys,” some of whom had little to no experience in prosecuting criminal cases.

Gaspard said as a “serious decision-maker,” he could not send junior prosecutors to court, as it would amount to his “betraying the public’s trust and abandoning the citizens of TT.”

He said when the Cabinet Note suggested 137 prosecutors for his office, there were no drug treatment, children or masters courts.

In recent times, there have also been proposals for a specialised human trafficking and sexual offences court.

“How can you outfit those courts, but not outfit the DPP’s office? You are increasing those courts, but not DPP office. There must be a commensurate number of prosectors.”

Now, he hopes his office can get closer to the 137 prosecutors it needs, if not the full complement,with the legislative and structural changes in the system.