Until last November relatively few Saint Lucians (by which I mean the miniscule section of our society that still gives a damn), knew she existed, let alone her name and function. Which is not to say she inhabited some secret bat cave by day and emerged only on particularly dark nights with chimerical boloms and gens gaje. It turns out that Victoria Charles-Clarke was never a hermit. It’s just that life had taught her always to choose her friends carefully. In this town where color preferences determine loyalty, you can never be too cautious about whom you entrust with your secret thoughts. Even when you believe you’re sharing a private burden with a proven friend, chances are he or she will turn out to be a chameleon—capable of assuming at the speed of light every color on a dollar bill.
What a surprise, then, when she was hired by the red Kenny Anthony administration despite they suspected she was yellow to the bone—a perception based largely on presumed ties to Sir John Compton. But then the red brigade would be the first to remind the critical observer that even after close to five years they had refused to confirm her in her position, a miscalculated tactic they imagined would keep her malleable.
Speaking on her own behalf, the lady insists she had never imagined herself other than a lawyer hired to serve her country as Director of Public Prosecutions. Her first loyalty had always been to the Constitution of Saint Lucia. If in truth she had a color preference, she seemed determined to keep it Victoria’s secret.
Nevertheless, that the government headed by Sir John Compton had confirmed her position soon after winning the 2006 general elections was, for her initial employers, further proof they were right all along: that she had never been one of them; that always she had been irrevocably UWP. The 2006 beneficiaries of Sir John’s legacy happily shared that conviction—until she insisted on playing by the book. By which I refer to our Constitution. But that’s for another show. Suffice it to say that much of what went on in the darker corners of the Red Zone was as secret to the acting DPP as to the confirmed DPP.
Chances are a certain Dominican lawyer knows more about Rochamel and Grynberg than ever she did, to say nothing of IMPACS— the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. In November 2015, two days before the explosion that abruptly made the Director of Public Prosecutions the nation’s most discussed public official, the governing Saint Lucia Labour Party convened a meeting on the steps of the Castries market. Among the first to address the primed audience on the remembered evening was Stanley Felix, an unelected MP and lawyer with responsibility for housing. However, on the revisited evening what occupied his attention was the leader of the opposition United Workers Party and a finger-pointing report he claimed had not received due attention by the DPP, despite that she’d had it for several months. By all he said, the MP seemed to be blaming the perceived tardiness on political considerations given precedence over the law of the land. The fulminating MP (soon to be disposed of by the electorate) cautioned the DPP—who in a few weeks would proceed on pre-retirement leave—either to shape up or get the hell out of the government’s hair.
Atypically, the DPP hit back on 26 November 2015, at a press conference. While she touched on the report cited from the steps of the Castries market (she blamed the alleged tardiness on well-known shortcomings at her office) it was on another much discussed report that she concentrated: ”The government appointed a team of investigators to look into twelve police shootings which occurred between 2010 and 2012. There had been inquests into these police shootings and of these inquests one involving five persons was incomplete; the other seven were completed, with findings of lawful killings. One came with a finding of unlawful killing.
“The government passed legislation, namely the Police Complaints Act Number 7 of 2013, to allow the minister responsible for the police to appoint special investigators from outside of Saint Lucia. That was done and in March 2015 the prime minister made an address. A report was sent to my office and according to the prime minister it was for me to evaluate and assess the probative evidence placed before me. At the time I received the report, in March, I was engaged in a murder trial involving three defendants that lasted about three months.
“Thereafter I commenced the Verlinda Joseph trial, which went on until the high court building was shutdown for renovations and repair. After that I was engaged in preparing numerous cases, hundreds of cases I might say, for the courts were due to re-commence in September. It was while I was on vacation that I was able to give my full attention to the IMPACS Report, as it is called.
“What I received, I must say, did not come in the traditional form. In fact the manner in which the report was sent to me, I believe, was unconventional. I can also say the contents of that report did not conform with our laws in Saint Lucia. In other words, it did not constitute evidence as required under the laws of Saint Lucia. In other words it did not constitute evidence as required under the Evidence Act. What I read in the document I received comprised of opinions, commentary, summary recommendations.
“Of course there were some most serious allegations of infringements of some of the gravest and most serious offences under our Criminal Code. Having received that document and perused it I had to spend time researching the law and deciding how to proceed. I have come to the conclusion that what was presented to me was not in accordance with the requirements of our laws.
“I have written to the attorney general and also to the Minister of Home Affairs requesting that there be compliance with Section 3-7 of the Police Complaints Act, the amendment of which says: Where in any investigation authorized by the Minister, it appears to the investigator or lead investigator that there is prima facie evidence of criminal conduct, he or she shall transmit to the Director of Public Prosecutions, all evidence, statements and other relevant materials arising from the investigation.
“What I received was a report. I did not receive statements. I did not receive other documents, and a lot of the other information referred to in the report was not submitted to me . . . and has not been submitted to me. There were other legal issues arising from the report which I cannot disclose, or go into, but about which I have requested information. I have also raised this matter with the attorney general.”
She reminded media representatives at her meeting of the operations of her office. “When a file is sent to me as DPP,” she said, “I have to review the evidence to determine whether the evidence complies with the requirements of our Evidence Act and the criminal laws of Saint Lucia. I have to determine whether the evidence is sufficient and what is admissible. The only way I can do that is by having the actual or real evidence, the evidential material upon which the allegations are being made. I review that; it tells me the source of the evidence, how the evidence was obtained. It allows me to apply the various elements of the law, the laws of evidence, to determine whether that evidence will be admissible in court. That is how I do my work.”
Finally: “I do not make public statements on matters that the police have referred to me. To do so would be to compromise the investigation and, secondly, also to alert potential offenders that certain action is likely to be taken against them that will encourage them to evade the law. There are numerous reasons why public statements could not be made about this matter.”
Several days following the DPP’s meeting with the local press the justice minister Victor LaCorbiniere revealed to Shelton Daniel, in an interview featured on state-funded Radio St. Lucia, that he had indeed received on November 25, 2015 a letter from the DPP dated 23 November, 2015, “approximately eight months after the report being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.”
It was the justice minister’s “understanding that the report was sent on 7 March 2015.” He seemed to say there was something unusual, if not outright wrong, about the DPP having written to him “eight months after she received the report stating certain things . . . And in the middle of this she is about to proceed on retirement leave.” That was “clearly, clearly, clearly something of extreme concern,” LaCorbiniere added.
As for the DPP’s expressed dissatisfactions: “She has indicated the report contains certain material but that the important basis for that material, the witness statements and other evidentiary matters, are not contained in that report. Well, Shelton, it could not be contained in that report. It would be highly improper and prejudicial to have any such matters contained in a report of this kind . . . So, for the Director of Public Prosecutions to even wish to suggest in any kind of way that there was some lapse or some problem with not annexing these to the report is, I believe, really and truly out of place; completely out of place.”
So much for that Section of the Police Complaints Act cited by the Director of Public Prosecutions at her press conference!
Additionally: “I am deeply concerned by the correspondence she has written me and some of the statements she has made in the public domain. All of this appears to me to have prejudiced her mind in the conduct of this matter . . . Without having the benefit of all the facts, all the statements, all the documents in this matter, for her to be going down the road prejudicing her mind and making prejudicial conclusions, that is a very, very serious matter as far as I am concerned . . . I am going to make it, as I’ve said, part of the public record because I believe the nature of this matter warrants that we have to be mindful of the public right to know and how much we can disclose.”
Since her retirement there has been no public word from the former DPP. Meanwhile her office remains vacant, much to the consternation of the US State Department and human rights representatives of the EU. The IMPACS issue remains unresolved and evidently “not going away anytime soon,” to quote officials. But while it may have seemed for a time Victoria Charles-Clarke’s career was consequently in jeopardy, this week brought good news, at any rate for the former DPP. She has been appointed a high court judge assigned to the Commonwealth of Dominica: Anthony Astaphan’s turf.
Alas, judging by the attention given her new position by the local media, Victoria Charles-Clarke might just as well have taken permanent residence in an uncharted cave with other IMPACS scapegoats!
Speaking of which, the trending word that former prime minister Stephenson King has been relieved of his US visa has turned out to be a rumor “made in Red City” and one hundred percent not true. Wishful thinking, according to an especially attractive yellowbird conceivably in a position to know!