The tit-for-tat concerning the state of the criminal justice system took another turn on Monday, when two senior judiciary officers added their voices to the debate.
In a press release, acting Supreme Court Registrar Kerri-Ann Oliverie-Stuart and Deputy Court Executive Administrator for the Criminal Division Vanessa Garcia, responded to statements made by Director of Public Prosecutions, Roger Gaspard in his release on the Chief Justice’s comments during his annual address at the opening of the 2020/2021 Law Term.
In an eight-page letter on Saturday, Gaspard denied claims by the Chief Justice that his office was partly to blame for the criminal justice system being on the verge of collapse, because his office only filed 12 indictments for 2019-2020.
Gaspard said the statement was “spectacularly disingenuous and misleading.”
He admitted to, and apologized for the 12 indictments filed and gave several reasons for that, including the shortage of staff at his office and the Judiciary’s reneging on an agreement allowing the DPP’s office to file indictments in hard copy and not electronically.
However, in a nine page e-mail on Monday, Oliverie-Stuart and Garcia, said “While there may be several factors which contributed to the low number of matters filed by you, to suggest that it is due to the Judiciary “reneging on an arrangement to accept, otherwise than by electronic means, the traditional filing of approximately 450 committals and related indictments, together with transcripts” is patently untrue.”
They distanced the judiciary from blame, saying that they gave a timeline on the agreement to file committal bundles, pointing out that Gaspard’s office was asked to receive files electronically from the Chief Magistrate, since making multiple records was financially burdensome and caused significant delay.
They said Gaspard was made known of the delays associated with printing multiple copies of the voluminous documents, but the DPP’s Office refused to move away from the traditional paper transfer.
The two senior Judiciary staffers pointed out that since August 2019, when the agreement was confirmed, only eight indictments had been filed in Port of Spain, and two in San Fernando. Two more were to be filed, one of which was a notice of discontinuance. They gave a list of the indictments filed and when they were filed.
The two also repeated Gaspard’s “disingenuous” retort to the CJ’s statement in his address for the new law term on October 7, and listed the indictments filed, dating back to 2009 – a total of 1,921, with the lowest number being in 2019/2020.
“Unfortunately, it is not an aberration as suggested by you but a troubling trend showing a significant reduction occurring over a three-year period from 2017-2020 which warrants an urgent review of the system,” they said.
The two said a review had started of the process in the district courts and several weak points were identified which led to the decision that committal documents should be filed electronically. They said a significant factor in the backlog of criminal cases was the time between an accused being committed and the indictment being filed.
They also pointed out that at status hearings – to determine the readiness of parties – many accused wanted to plead guilty but couldn’t because their indictments had not yet been filed.
They told Gaspard the registrar stood ready to accept the bundles for the 958 matters he wished to file and asked him to make an appointment to do so.