DPP says Judiciary at fault for his delays in Seetahal case

Home*Cover Story*News

DPP says Judiciary at fault for his delays in Seetahal case

Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, has basically confirmed that the judiciary is to blame for his delays in the case concerning the 2014 murder of beloved senior counsel Dana Seetahal,

In a media release yesterday, he sought to explain why his office has so far not filed the indictment against those accused of murdering Dana Seetahal in 2014.

In the absence of the relevant original documents from the ­Judiciary, not electronic copies as provided, Gaspard said his hands are tied.

He said, contrary to what the Judiciary stated at the weekend in a media release of its own, the DPP’s office has not been in receipt of the committal bundle from the Magistrates’ Court to have the indictment filed at the High Court.

It is only after the indictment is filed that the matter can come up for case-management conference in preparation for it proceeding to trial.

Those accused of the murder were committed to stand trial since 2020.

In his release, Gaspard stated that the family of the late Dana Seetahal and no doubt the public are rightly concerned that those accused of her murder have not yet been brought to their trial in the High Court.

The Judiciary stated on Saturday evening, in response to an article published in the Express, that it had electronically forwarded the committed bundle comprising 8,100 pages to the DPP’s Office in three tranches, in December 2023 and January this year.

While he acknowledged receipt of this yesterday, Gaspard said it was useless when it came to his ­office filing the indictment.

“Section 25(1) of the Indictable Offences (Preliminary Enquiry) Act (IOPEA) requires that the committal bundle be sent to me ‘without delay’ at the end of the preliminary enquiry.

“Under Section 25(2) of the ­IOPEA it is my statutory duty to keep the committal bundle until an indictment is filed in the High Court and then to transmit it to the Registrar of the Supreme Court.

“The committal bundle comprises the originals of the committal complaint, the deposition or statement of the witnesses, the documentary exhibits, the evidence on behalf of the accused persons, the warrants of commitment for trial and the recognisances of the witnesses,” he said.

Gaspard added that sections 25 to 27 of the ­IOPEA do not allow his office to file a valid complaint after receiving files ­electronically.

“The consequence of not filing a valid indictment is that it would become liable to be quashed and no trial could occur. It should be borne in mind that filing of an indictment by the Director of Public Prosecutions under section 25(3) of the IOPEA is not the inevitable consequence of a committal,” he said.

According to Gaspard, the DPP is actually required to consider the evidence in the committal bundle before determining the offences, if any and against whom, for which an indictment should be filed.

Gaspard noted that the charges against those accused of Seetahal’s murder were laid on July, 24, 2015, and the preliminary enquiry commenced on May 27, 2016.

“It was concluded on or about 23rd of July 2020. The enquiry was protracted for a number of reasons, including the logistical arrangements that had to be put in place for the hearing of the matter and the presiding magistrate’s schedule—neither of which falls within my purview.

“I am reliably informed by the relevant officer at my office that since the conclusion of the preliminary enquiry numerous enquiries have been made of the Port of Spain District Court concerning the delivery of the committal bundle to this office.

“The consistent response from the District Court was that we would have to wait because the bundle was too voluminous. As the Judiciary has kindly pointed out, an electronic copy of the committal bundle was delivered between the 20th December 2023, and 5th January 2024,” he said.

Gaspard said he did “not know why it was considered necessary at this stage to digitise the committal bundle rather than deliver it to this office as the law requires”.

He said the more-than-8,100 pages could have been more easily secured in “a few banker boxes and transmitted to this office in the three years and five months that it has taken to provide an electronic copy”.

And he said while he was grateful for that copy, the provision of such a copy does not comply with the IOPEA, as he will need to have the original committal bundle in order to fulfil his statutory duties under the IOPEA and to file a valid indictment since expediency is not a source of law.

Gaspard said further that efforts since January 5, 2024, to have the original committal bundle delivered to the Office of the DPP have not been successful, “as I have been also advised by the relevant officer, that the earliest that we could obtain an appointment for its delivery of that committal bundle is 20th of May 2024”.

Last Saturday marked ten years since Seetahal was shot dead along Hamilton Holder Street, Woodbrook.