DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Victoria Charles-Clarke, has responded to Housing Minister Stanley Felix’s call for her to demit office if she fails to issue a statement on a government-commissioned report.
Speaking at a Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) public meeting at the Castries Market steps Tuesday evening, Felix chided Charles-Clarke for not giving an update on the Report on the Financial Operations of Town, Village and Rural Councils released two years ago.
Felix said the DPP’s Office was responsible for looking into the allegations concerning improprieties said to have been committed during the last United Workers Party (UWP) administration. A statement from that office, he said, seemed appropriate, adding that she relinquish her post if she fails to issue one.
“We want it, the people want it,” Felix said. “It is only fair that you do what is just and right in the interest of this country. And furthermore, if you cannot do that, I suggest that you resign, retire or just quit because you’re not serving the interest of this country.”
He added: “Your job does not just entail charging people arrested for small pockets of drugs and those little things. That’s not what you’re there for. You are quick to charge them but what about the big guys? What about them? What about the big guys when allegations and evidence have been uncovered about their improprieties?”
On Thursday morning, Charles-Clarke convened a press conference at her office where she told the media that while she did receive the said report which contained allegations of unlawful acts, the report was not compiled by an investigating official.
“Our laws require investigations to be conducted when an offence has been committed and it is based on these investigations by the investigating officials that the DPP will decide whether or not the evidence is sufficient upon which charges can be laid,” Charles-Clarke explained.
Over the years, Charles-Clarke has been criticized heavily for her office’s ostensibly slow pace in handling criminal cases, resulting in many people questioning that department’s ability to deliver speedy justice. However, she said the perennial lack of adequate resources has plagued her department, a situation that becomes increasingly worse with heavier case-loads.
Charles-Clarke said her office made a request in 2004 for ten lawyers in order to enhance her office’s staff structure. Despite being approved by Cabinet, that never materialized. At the moment, she and six Crown Counsels comprise that department’s staff base.
“In 2004, I thought ten (appointments in my office) would have been sufficient to handle the volume of cases (then). But we’re now in 2015. So in my view, we really need maybe about fifteen lawyers in the department to handle the case-load that is currently within the system,” Charles-Clarke said.
She said several reforms undertaken in the criminal justice system have sped up the actual committal process resulting in more cases now being ready for trial than would have been in the past.
Stopping short of asking for an apology from the Minister, she described Felix’s statements as “out of touch”, “improper” and “disrespectful”, adding that the manner in which he said them were unjustified.
“Mr. Felix is a Minister of government, he’s a lawyer,” Charles-Clarke said. “I think he should know that his conduct was improper and unprofessional. Yes, he was behaving as a politician at the time but I think one cannot shed one’s hat and take on the other without upholding the ethics of the profession and the law. So he should know what the decent thing to do in these circumstances is.”
So just how high is the mountain of cases piling up in the DPP’s Office? Here’s a hint. In 2004, when the court sat for the Assizes session which lasted for about three months, there were about 100 cases in the High Court that year. Currently, there are about 1,900 cases in the High Court of which just over 500 are ready for trial.
Systemic problems in the criminal justice system include having only one judge dealing with criminal cases from 2009 to 2014 and having just one criminal high court. Recent rehabilitation works at the High Court have also affected court cases significantly with proceedings having to be either adjourned or relocated to other venues, including the House of Assembly.
Charles-Clarke said that while her office continues to receive the brunt of criticism regarding the dispensing of justice, she can only act upon matters that are presented to her in a conventional manner and with the appropriate resources needed to do so.
“The public has the impression that the criminal justice system is solely and totally the DPP’s responsibility,” Charles-Clarke said. “But that is not the case. My office is just one of the agents within the criminal justice system.”