Trinidad and Tobago
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DPP to appear before JSC on criminal justice system next month

Jensen La Vende  DPP Roger Gaspard - File photo
DPP Roger Gaspard - File photo

DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard has assured Parliament's Joint Select Committee (JSC) on National Security that he will avail himself at the next meeting in April.

Gaspard was invited to appear before the JSC on Wednesday, but wrote to say he was unavailable , but would be available in April.

The invitation was extended after the JSC met on March 15 and questioned the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Vice Marshal Darryl Daniel, along with other senior defence force officers.

Gaspard has been in the media spotlight for most of March, after saying on a radio interview on March 8 that his office was woefully understaffed. He added that if the staffing issue were not corrected, the criminal justice system could collapse.

Three days later he was chastised by the Attorney General, Reginald Armour, who accused the DPP’s office of underperforming.

Both attorneys working in the DPP’s office and the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) called for Armour to apologise. The attorneys said they have been working assiduously to dispense justice, at the expense of their mental and physical health. The CBA called on all practising attorneys to show solidarity with the attorneys at the DPP’s office, adding that should Gaspard's complaint not be addressed, the criminal justice system will be adversely affected.

The demand for an apology came hours after Armour and Gaspard had a “productive” meeting. Details of that meeting remain a mystery.

Chief Justice Ivor Archie also criticised Gaspard saying that he was negligent in his role. Archie’s six-page statement came a week after the demand for Armour to apologise.

As administrative head of the Judiciary and chairman of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (which hires attorneys for the DPP’s office), Archie accused Gaspard of failing to suggest names and completing appraisals for prosecutors to be promoted. He said Gaspard had failed to indicate the need to fill vacancies in his department, adding that his inaction resulted in indictments not being filed in a timely manner.

While both the DPP and the CBA say the criminal justice system is on the verge of collapsing, the Prime Minister is not of that view.

At a media conference on March 23 on the ongoing issue involving the top three legal luminaries and perceived political involvement in the staff shortage at the DPP’s office, Dr Rowley said the wheels of justice may turn slow, but it had not yet collapsed.

“It has its challenges, and its challenges are not beyond us...What I expect to happen going forward is that all entities involved, agencies and individuals, face facts, face the truth and get on with the job,” Rowley said.

The JSC had first planned on inviting the Chief Justice, Attorney General and the DPP to its meeting after the public comments by all three, but reconsidered, sources said, and decided to invite the DPP first.

After the DPP explained that the invitation came too late (it was sent on March 20) he offered to appear any day between April 18 and 21.

Wednesday’s meeting was titled: An inquiry into the criminal justice system in Trinidad and Tobago to determine strategies to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness.