A convergence of embarrassing public announcements has compelled the usually comatose Director of Public Prosecution’s (DPP) office to emerge from its impenetrable cocoon. For a decade it had kept its unapologetic silence on a number of critical issues and appeared to be responsible and accountable to no authority.
A damning US State Department Human Rights Report for 2011 on St Lucia revealed that there were serious problems in key areas of the justice system, “including police killings, abuse of suspects and prisoners by the police, corruption, long delays in trials and sentencing, violence against women, child abuse, and discrimination against homosexuality.” Then the judgment of the constitutional case brought against the Government of St Lucia by Attorney Martinus Francois on behalf of Eugene St Romaine was delivered on May 30, 2012 by Justice Francis Belle. While the court did not dismiss the case, as was sought by the defense attorney, it set bail for the accused at EC $60,000. In December 2002, Mr St Romaine was arrested and charged for the alleged murder of thirteen-year-old Verlinda Joseph. The accused has been on remand at the Bordelais Correctional Facility for the past ten years without a trial.
The judge’s ruling was viewed as a rebuke to the DPP’s office and the public has been discussing what appears to be a violation of the constitutional rights of the accused. The Constitution mandates that accused individuals should be granted a “speedy trial.” While the Constitution is silent on what constitutes speedy; it is clear to reasonable thinking people, excluding those at the DPP’s office that a decade is an interminably long time.
In his case against the government, Mr St Romaine asked the Court to halt his criminal case because there was “excessive delay in bringing him to trial and he was entitled to the same number of expert witnesses as the state.”
In the joint statement released by the Attorney General and the DPP’s office, which appeared to be a veiled threat to the media carefully disguised as a warning, the DPP sought to silence any press discussion on the matter before the court. Boldly they claimed that media houses will be held in “contempt of court under section 390 of the Criminal Code 2004 and carries a penalty of two years imprisonment.” Such a declaration was completely uncalled for and could be viewed as an insult to the collective intelligence of a free and democratic press.                 The press is aware of the laws regarding coverage of court cases. The truth is for ten years there has been scant reporting about the facts of this case, for the details of what has transpired are securely held at the DPP’s office and the accused languishes in prison. A trial date is yet to be announced.
The press has every right to question and discuss what appears to be a constitutional violation of the rights of the accused to a fair and impartial trial.
The press is duty bound to comment on matters of public interest, especially when there is a ruling from a high court judge and an international report which questions the country’s human rights record.
By its own admission, the DPP’s statement notes: “The state has been prepared to proceed with the trial of this matter since early 2010. From that time substantial delay can be attributed to both Mr St Romaine’s defense and his filing of the constitutional claim against the Government.”
The accused filed a constitutional claim precisely because it had taken the DPP’s office eight long years to take the matter to trial. So, to say that the delay was due to his constitutional claim is an attempt to hoodwink the public.
It is absurd for the DPP’s office to caution or threaten the media which is simply doing its legitimate duty by commenting on a matter of public interest. The media is a constitutionally protected entity in our functioning democracy.
Is the DPP’s aim to silence the press, for the light it currently shines on the dark corridors of its office is revealing ugly truths? It shows an office with a questionable approach to justice.
We would have liked the DPP’s office to explain why it takes such an inordinate length of time for cases to make it through the court system. We want to know what the DPP’s office will do about speeding up the process. We want an explanation for the lack of inquests into the numerous police shootings on the island.
Instead of threats against the media, the DPP’s office should focus on transparency and accountability. We need a DPP’s office that will be the standard bearer for justice.                 Ultimately, it is the Government that must be accountable to the people for the operations of the DPP’s office. In the interest of equal rights and justice we must dictate and demand a reform and a complete overhaul of the DPP’s office.
The taxpaying public, on which VAT is soon to be imposed, deserves nothing less. At the very least, the DPP must account to the people and the government for the unconscionable and inexcusable delays and take full responsibility for this travesty.

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