Chastanet Lists Host of Problems
PRIME Minister Allen Chastanet says his government will make every possible effort to ameliorate the myriad of problems being faced by the judiciary, especially as it relates to infrastructure and the slow pace at which justice is dispensed.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday evening during which he outlined his government’s short and long-term plans, Chastanet said that hundreds of unresolved cases causing a log-jam in the court system have resulted in Saint Lucia’s human rights ranking being downgraded.
“The human rights issue has been predominantly driven by the Lambirds (Academy) situation…While the case has been proceeding, it does not appear that the government is putting up a sufficiently good defence,” Chastanet said.
Chastanet said the island’s justice system “is on the verge of collapsing” and that measures needed to be implemented immediately to remedy the situation.
Since the retirement of former Director of Prosecutions, Victoria Charles-Clarke, earlier this year, many important cases have been put on hold, – including the Lambirds Academy affair – as well as how local officials plan to proceed with the fallout from the ill-fated IMPACS report’s findings. Although a Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions has been appointed, Chastanet said problems remain.
“Without the (appointment) of a DPP, a lot of things have come to a grinding halt, for instance, the signing of warrants,” Chastanet explained. “Right now, the Attorney General has had to sign warrants. (She) does not feel comfortable doing so because she is not au courant with the cases that are taking place, as would a DPP.”
Chastanet said government was mulling the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to aid in resolving the IMPACS matter. However, he said that appointment cannot be made possible without a DPP first being appointed.
“This has been very painful and has caused me much grief and ought to cause all Saint Lucians a deep sense of concern in terms of what’s taking place in the judiciary,” Chastanet said.
The Prime Minister said the DPP’s Office currently has four lawyers and a Deputy DPP despite the optimum level being ten lawyers given the number of cases now languishing in the courts, including murder cases, which he said, is “creating havoc on the reputation of Saint Lucia.”
Chastanet said that despite a Cabinet decision being made by the previous administration to build a US$17 million administrative complex on the site of the former Golden Hope Hospital at Tapion, he had since met with the contractors and asked them to tweak the designs to have the building become a police headquarters.
“The government will be doing everything we can right now to be able to bring confidence both back into the judicial system as well as the police force,” Chastanet stated.
Chastanet said a “very demoralized and depleted” police force has “complicated matters further”. He said the Police Force has requested 30 new vehicles and indicated that the Force now has only two motorbikes. The deplorable state of police offices and low morale following the published details from the IMPACS report, he said, compound the problems.
Chastanet said between $300,000 and $400,000 will be needed to repair damages caused to the forensics lab by an earthquake. Re-staffing of that facility which was closed following reports of breach of protocol there, remains a priority, he added. Nevertheless, he noted that the necessary steps need to be taken to address the outstanding issues.
“The police and the DPP’s Office are integral in being able to deliver justice to this country. So without an investigative arm functioning, it almost becomes virtually impossible for the DPP’s Office to work,” Chastanet said.
Attorney General Kim St. Rose’s position has become a contentious one, considering that she was appointed by the last administration and was charged with bringing legal proceedings against Chastanet on behalf of the government. Her contract, Chastanet said, ends in January 2018 and she still sits in Cabinet which, he said, has become an uncomfortable situation. Finding a win-win situation, he said, is a priority.
“I’m certainly hoping that with her cooperation we can announce something very soon that will be to the mutual benefit of the State, as well as preserving the fact that she has a contract,” the Prime Minister said.
He added: “I think that the Attorney General herself is a very reasonable person. I’d like to think that she is. This could be a win-win situation. I’m not looking to marginalize her position (because) clearly I recognize that she has a contract. But I would love to get some work out of her that would be to the benefit of the State and everybody else. So I’m still optimistic that that’s the case. If, in fact, we end up appointing another person as a political position, it means the Public Service Commission will now have to find a role for the DPP. So it’s not about paying her off at that point; she’s still under contract by the government. But she can no longer perform the role as the Attorney General.”