ACTING Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Daarsrean Greene, has issued a stern warning to the media and general public to refrain from discussing key elements of cases that are sub judice (under judicial consideration).
Greene, who was appointed to the post last October, said that while the public and the media might be concerned about matters being investigated by the police and/or pending in the courts, some level of confidentiality needs to be preserved and responsibility exercised.
“The sub judice rule may be breached by public statements that risk prejudging matters or issues that are before the courts, in particular, commenting on the strengths and weaknesses of cases before the courts and discussing and prejudging a case before a defendant,” Greene said at a press conference on Thursday.
He said public discussions and reporting related to versions of evidence given by parties were strictly forbidden and that “we ought not to try to decide matters that are before the courts in the court of public opinion” as this “can significantly prejudice the Crown’s case and equally that of the defendant.”
Greene said he noted that discussing evidence and other matters related to ongoing court cases had become a “quite popular” phenomenon of late, stressing that such a practice breaches Section 380 subsections (g) and (h) of the Criminal Code which read as follows:
“A person commits the offence of contempt of court if he or she (g) publishes any matter which is intended or likely to prejudice the fair trial or conduct of criminal proceedings; and (h) publishes any matter which prejudges issues which are to be tried or are being tried by the Court.”
He said the indictable offence can result in imprisonment and stressed that people needed to know that “there’s an investigative stage (following which) the matter, if it meets the threshold, goes to court to be determined by a judge, magistrate or judge and jury.”
Responding to a question asked relating to pronouncements made by former Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony on the IMPACS report relating to evidence, Greene said the following:
“I will not attempt to even give an opinion as to whether his actions were prejudicial to the case as I would enter into this realm where I am not going to. Even if forced to, I won’t. If he made announcements, they fell on deaf ears because I didn’t hear them as far as I’m concerned.”
Greene said that while discussions relating to inquiries about pending cases are allowed, the public and the media must be acquainted with and follow the rules because ignorance of the law would not spare them from the legal repercussions.
“The issue of evidence – where it’s located and where it’s obtained and what’s with it – is not of any concern to the public (when a) matter is sub judice. That is what we need to achieve in Saint Lucia – that we give the judicial process time,” Greene explained.
Greene’s workload is a heavy one and having been given a one-year contract to create a turnaround in the DPP’s Office, he said he was prepared to face the challenges head-on. His office has since received assistance from both the Saint Lucian and United States governments in the form of computers and other technologies. By month-end, additional Crown Counsels should be assigned to the DPP’s Office. He also aims to make speedy trials the norm.
“I don’t believe that any matter should take more than six months from the time of arrest to trial,” Greene said. “That is the goal I wish would have been achieved after my stint. Unfortunately, these matters, in terms of IMPACS, went through one judicial process for the determination in the inquisition stage (but) this is still not the complete criminal investigation. So we have to give these matters time.”
Despite public outcry about the seemingly slow pace of justice, Greene disagrees that the judicial system was in shambles, saying that “we work hard with what we have”, and that “we will get satisfaction in terms of at least housing four judges for criminal trials exclusively (and) having maybe another two Masters before the High Court… So I see a very good road ahead.”
Greene also apprised the media on the state of some high-level cases which, he said, were the source of public discussion, prompting his intervention.
He said despite heavy focus being placed on the police killings during between 2010 and 2011, similar cases have been pending in the system since 2006 which must also get priority. He said 21 police killings are currently being reviewed and that some matters were sent to the Coroner’s Court and pronouncements made.
“Many of these matters are still incomplete in terms of the criminal investigations and, as such, cannot disclose details of any findings of what in particular is missing from these investigations as this would only prejudice the due process,” Greene explained.
He added: “We will have these matters resolved but I ask for the patience of the public because these are very sensitive issues. The liberty of certain subjects is at stake and we must also consider what has happened in these tragic circumstances. So I’m imploring the public that their patience is solicited.”
In the Lambirds Academy matter, Greene said one of the matters has been settled, namely that relating to 49 counts of obtaining property by deception brought against the ill-fated school’s director, Dr. Iftekhar Shams.
He said government spent nearly $1.3 million to provide accommodations for the foreign students who remained here for nearly two years, adding that he has decided to allow the mediation process and criminal proceedings to take effect, admitting that Dr. Shams’ two-year incarceration on remand was “inconceivable in the 21st century”.
“The matter was resolved (and) I believe it was resolved justly and to great benefit to all parties concerned,” Greene said. “One aspect of Mr. Shams’ charges has been dealt with so we can move on to the remainder of them…I can say clearly that $1 million was restituted to the students.”
In the Oliver Gobat case, Greene said he was made aware that word was that his role was being “fettered or usurped” via missives sent to the British Home Office. That was not the case, he said, adding that he has since sent correspondence to the Home Office as well as the Office of the Prime Minister regarding the case. He believes that working in tandem with more well-resourced partners makes the burden lighter.
“As a small State, we have required great assistance from our friends overseas in dealing with investigations and I don’t see any signs of this stopping. As anyone can see, we are just not capable of doing all of the investigations – staging and fine-tuning – on our own. There will always be a need for foreign assistance,” Greene explained.